PGA suspension support from Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy as Charl Schwartzel tops LIV leaderboard after controversial day one

Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy have welcomed the PGA Tour’s decision to suspend players competing in the controversial LIV Golf Invitational Series, a move branded “vindictive” by the Saudi-backed breakaway.

Within minutes of the first shots being struck in the £20million event, the PGA Tour sent a memo to all members informing them that 17 players competing at Centurion, despite being refused permission, were being suspended.

The list included six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who holds Lifetime Membership of the PGA Tour, former world No 1 Dustin Johnson and European stars Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood.

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PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s stance received the support of US PGA champion Thomas and four-time major winner McIlroy, after completing their first rounds at the Canadian Open in Ontario.

“I’m pleased,” Thomas said. “I think anybody that’s shocked clearly hasn’t been listening to the message that Jay and everybody’s been putting out. They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.

“Like I’ve said the whole time, I have great belief and great confidence in the PGA TOUR and where we’re going and continuing to grow to, and those guys just aren’t going to be a part of it.”

McIlroy added: “All he (Monahan) is doing is basically going by the book. I think that the majority of the membership that are here this week and that haven’t gone and played elsewhere really appreciate that.

“So I think he’s done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences, I guess.”

Dustin Johnson of the United States tees off on the 5th hole during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational at The Centurion Club on June 09, 2022 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

The controversial day began with much fanfare - an actual trumpet fanfare - and a flypast from vintage fighter planes over the first tee and golfers taken to various start points around the course by electric black taxi cabs for the ‘shotgun start’. The atmosphere around the first tee could hardly be described as raucous as the star attractions Mickelson and Johnson teed off, although there was a lone cry of "Rip one Phil" and another of "Let's go DJ".

Fears of poor ticket sales, which had seen players offering free tickets on social media, proved unfounded, although tournament officials would not say how close they had come to achieving their maximum of 8,000. Viewing figures on YouTube consistently hovered between 90,000 and 100,000.

The golf itself was overshadowed by the controversy and statements off the course, but viewers who tuned in for the game saw former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel finish the first day on top of the Centurion Club leaderboard.

Beginning his round from the third tee, an eagle late in his round took the South African five-under for the overnight lead, ahead of countryman Henne Du Plessis. Close by on three-under are Scott Vincent and long-time leader, Phachara Khongwatmai.

Pin flag flies during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational at The Centurion Club on June 09, 2022 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson, leader of the team named the Hy Flyers, and Dustin Johnson were each one stroke under-par, sharing seventh place with England's Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter. However there wasn’t as much good news for the other Brits in St Albans. Graeme McDowell finished four-over while Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter registered 75, five-over par for their opening round.

Poulter said he plans to appeal his PGA suspension and insisted he had done nothing wrong in taking part in the inaugural event.

"I've played a lot of tournaments all around the world, this event is no different. It's a shame if they view this as something different," he said.

"I will appeal for sure. It makes no sense. Having two Tour cards and the ability to play golf all over the world, what's wrong with that? I believe I've been given permission in the past to play in events around the world."

The controversial event began with a trumpet fanfare and a vintage air display (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Asked why he had been refused on this occasion, Poulter added: "I don't know why. We can all make assumptions as to why. Competition is probably the real reason. It's a power struggle and it's just disappointing."

Sergio Garcia also revealed he had resigned his PGA Tour membership more than a week ago and therefore felt he could not be banned.

"I'm not banned because I'm not a member of it," he said. "He [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] received my letter. That's up to him. It doesn't bother me.

"I'm very happy where I am and I'm excited. I thought that was a great start and that's what I'm going to focus on.

"Obviously we're going to have to wait and see what the European Tour does. But I definitely would like to keep my membership there, play at least my minimum (number of events) and get as good a chance as I can to make the Ryder Cup team because I love that event."

Following the suspension developments the PGA of America will need to decide if affected players can play at next year’s Ryder Cup in Rome, though European players remain eligible via membership of the DP World Tour, which has made no public comment on its stance.

Sergio Garcia plays out of the rough on the 4th hole during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational at The Centurion Club. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

The USGA will not change the entry criteria to next week's US Open – and the R&A is expected to take the same approach regarding July's Open Championship – however the USGA statement did not address what may happen in the future.

LIV Golf is set to formally apply for its events to be allowed to award world ranking points, which can secure entry into the majors.

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