Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are among several LIV Golf players in the field for this week's DP World Tour event, the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.
However, while the pair will be looking to add to their combined 37 wins on the Tour as they take on players including World No.1 Rory McIlroy, the occasion is likely to have added meaning. That's because, after 395 appearances on the Tour for Poulter and a mammoth 589 for Westwood, it could mark their last.
An appeal panel will determine the future of LIV Golf players on the DP World Tour in a case beginning in London on 6 February. That will mark the culmination of a battle that began in June after DP World Tour players, including Westwood and Poulter, teed it up in the opening LIV Golf event at London's Centurion Club. That led to the DP World Tour imposing sanctions on those players of bans from the Genesis Scottish Open and Barracuda Championship and fines of £100,000.
Three players, including Poulter, took action against that move and the decision went in their favour with the bans "temporarily stayed", allowing them to compete on the Tour in the interim. Since then, there has been a sense that, while eligible for its tournaments, the players have not always been welcome.
For example, in August, Poulter accused the DP World Tour of withholding footage of his performance at the D+D Real Czech Masters. Then, before the DP World Tour's flagship event, September's BMW Championship at Wentworth, LIV Players were told they couldn't play in the pro-am, were encouraged not to wear LIV apparel and were not included in TV featured groups.
Even before last week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Poulter alluded to the perception that LIV Golf players were treated differently, saying: "I’m not in the pro-am tomorrow. I don’t know if they will put me on telly. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. 2022 was full of big distractions. And my full focus for 2023 is to have as little distractions as possible, play good golf and enjoy myself.”
Now, both he and Westwood face the possibility of being permanently frozen out of a Tour that their names are synonymous with. Poulter made his first appearance on it 24 years ago, whereas for Westwood, his association goes back even further, to 1994. As well as Westwood’s 25 wins and Poulter’s 12, the pair have also written their names into Ryder Cup folklore for their performances in the biennial competition over the years.
DP World Tour communications director Scott Crockett has revealed that, regardless of the outcome of the hearing, there could still be room for the saga to run. He said: “Will we appeal if we lose? Will they appeal if they lose? Will their players still be able to play on the tour if they are appealing? Unfortunately, the simple and honest answer to all of that is that is we don’t know.”
While the future may be uncertain, what we do know is that Westwood and Poulter have left an indelible mark on the Tour over several decades. If the sun really is about to set on their time on it, the manner of their exit will surely not be how anyone envisioned it when they embarked on their careers all those years ago.
Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories.
He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game.
Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course.
Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.
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