Norman conquest as Johnson quits PGA Tour

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Dustin Johnson's resignation from the PGA Tour has provided the explosive backdrop to this week's launch of Greg Norman's first Saudi-backed breakaway event in England.

The official defection of the world former No.1 to Norman's LIV Invitational Series was the headline act at the Centurion Club, north of London, on Tuesday.

But it didn't stop Johnson and his fellow big-name 'rebels' copping a media grilling about their participation in the series as a potentially rumbustious build-up began to Thursday's opener.

While organisers were talking up the novel format of the 54-hole LIV team event, Johnson and co had to bat away questions about Saudi human rights violations and 'sportswashing' while looking distinctly uncomfortable at a news conference.

Johnson, and his decision to quit the PGA Tour, where he's earned $US74 million ($A100 million), was a genuine coup for Norman's breakaway tour to announce, even before the event's Australian ringmaster had even arrived at St Albans.

The 37-year-old Johnson recognised he may have jeopardised his chances of ever again playing in the Ryder Cup but, as he awaited the consequences of his decision, he said he still expected to play at next week's US Open.

The USGA announced later on Tuesday that the dozen players at St Albans would be allowed to play the Open at Brookline.

Johnson is the second player to quit the PGA Tour to join the event being bankrolled by the Saudis' Public Investment Fund with a $US255 million ($A350 million) prize pot.

It's being painted as a landmark week in the battle for golf's soul, with Norman proclaiming his LIV series can "change the course of the sport's history" and its critics dismissing it as a money-laden 'sportswashing' exercise that could rip the sport apart,

But Kevin Na, the first player to quit the PGA Tour last week, offered an eloquent defence of the LIV concept, saying it could become "maybe the best tour in the world" and he was happy to be pioneers.

Phil Mickelson is the highest-profile player on board after ending his four-month self-imposed exile from the sport but it was left to fellow major winners Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen to answer the gnarly questions on Tuesday.

One put to McDowell at the end summed up the tone.

"You are now effectively working as an extension of Saudi PR. You talked about how the series is a force for good and the journey you've been told about Saudi Arabia is on," he was told.

"How is that journey helping the women oppressed in Saudi Arabia? The migrant groups, their rights violated? The LGBTQ individuals who are criminalised? The families of the 81 men who were executed in March? And those being bombed in Yemen?"

To which McDowell, effectively answering as a spokesman for the other two, replied: "... As golfers, if we tried to cure geopolitical situations in every country in the world that we play golf in, we wouldn't play a lot of golf. It's a really hard question to answer...."

The conference ended in lively fashion with a reporter being prevented from asking a question and then being blocked from following the session's host, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, out of the room.

Six Australians have made the 48-man field, led by 40-somethings, Matt Jones, a PGA Tour stalwart, and Wade Ormsby, a European Tour veteran who'll captain of one of the 12 four-men teams.

They also include younger players like Jed Morgan, Travis Smyth, Kevin Yuan and Blake Windred, who are all ranked outside the world's top-200.

They're looking to cash in on golf's most lucrative week, featuring a first prize of $US4 million ($A5.5 million) - more than Scotty Scheffler got for his Masters win - and one in which they're guaranteed to earn $US120,000 ($A165,000) even if finishing last.

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