ST ALBANS, United Kingdom: Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson are among the stars who teed off on Thursday at the LIV Golf Invitational London, the launch event of a lucrative and divisive series that is rocking the sport.
The $25 million event in St Albans -- the biggest prize pot in history -- is the first of eight tournaments this year bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, worth a combined $255 million.
A number of marquee names are in the 48-man field for the opener including six-time major winner Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia.
European Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell are also playing at the Centurion Club in St Albans.
Reports say Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler will become the latest big names to join the series.
Organisers are pledging to "supercharge" golf and widen its appeal, offering 54-hole tournaments with no cuts, simultaneous "shotgun starts" and a team element.
Signs around the course proclaim: "Golf. But Louder".
But the series is being staged in defiance of the main established tours, which are weighing up how to react in an intense power struggle.
Neither the US PGA Tour nor the DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, have yet announced sanctions, though a decision is expected soon.
Mickelson confirmed earlier this week he had signed up for the breakaway series, refusing to confirm or deny if he had been suspended, or currently was suspended, by the PGA Tour.
And he did not dispel rumours that he was receiving an eye-watering fee of $200 million to compete.
The American, 51, has not played since the publication of comments in February in which he criticised the PGA Tour and LIV Golf's Saudi backers.
Two-time major winner Johnson, who is reportedly receiving $150 million in appearance fees, is among a handful of players to have resigned their PGA Tour membership.
When asked whether he had opted for money over his country, he said he had chosen "what's best for me and my family".
Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods are among a group of players who have all committed themselves to the PGA Tour, but Ian Poulter believes more top golfers could defect.
Speaking in the run-up to the PGA Tour's Canadian Open, which clashes with the LIV event, McIlroy said: "It's a shame that it's going to fracture the game.
"The professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament's on this week and oh, he plays there and he doesn't get into these events, it just becomes so confusing."
LIV Golf is fronted by two-time major winner and former world number one Greg Norman.
Players will compete as individuals and teams for purses of $25 million in all seven regular-season events, being held in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the winner of each competition taking home $4 million.
The eighth and final event will be a team championship, with a total prize fund of $50 million. -- AFP