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LIV Golf's Lee Westwood is at U.S. Senior Open for over-50 tour debut

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Lee Westwood wants golf's powers to stop fighting so players like him can get back on the course, where the fans want them.

The two-time Masters runner-up and former No. 1 golfer in the world is at the Newport Country Club this week for the U.S. Senior Open, making his over-50 tour debut a year late in part because of a PGA Tour ban on LIV Golf defectors.

The 51-year-old Westwood received an invite to the Senior Open, which is run by the USGA, as a recent Ryder Cup participant. Richard Bland has also earned an invitation for winning the Senior PGA Championship. The only other LIV golfer over 50 is Phil Mickelson.

“At the end of the day, we’re in the entertainment industry,” Westwood said on Tuesday after a practice round at the course on the mouth of the Narragansett Bay.

“No matter what the level of golf is, I think if the best players at every level don’t come together and play, there’s only one loser, and that’s the fans watching," he said. “We need to somehow figure a way that we can get the best players playing against each other more often.”

Westwood ascended to the No. 1 ranking in 2010 after finishing in the top three in four of the previous five majors. That ended Tiger Woods’ record run of 281 weeks as the world’s top-ranked golfer; the Englishman held the No. 1 ranking for 22 weeks.

Although Westwood has never won a major, he has finished in the top five a dozen times.

Seems like the perfect candidate for a tour that was designed to give fans another chance to root on their favorites. But the PGA Tour's policy is that LIV golfers have to wait one year from their last appearance on the Saudi-backed circuit to play in PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions events.

In addition, the European tour has fined Westwood 850,000 British pounds – more than $1 million – a fine he repeated on Tuesday he has no intention of paying. “We’ll have to find a way around that,” he said.

“At any level, it’s disappointing they can’t resolve it,” Westwood said. “The Champions Tour for me is important because people have watched myself play and other guys out here play for the last 30, 40 years, and they build relationships with those players and they’ve seen us grow as players and people.

“Yes, people want to see the youngsters, the new guys on the block coming through and contending," he said. "But they also want to see the guys they’ve made a bond with over the last 30, 40 years."

Westwood is coming off a tie for third at last week’s LIV event outside of Nashville, Tennessee — his best result of the season. He said he didn’t feel like he needed a strong performance in Newport to make his larger point.

“Everybody that I talked to said it’s great to see myself and Richard playing here,” Westwood said, adding that he thought the victory by LIV’s Bryson DeChambeau in the U.S. Open was good for the sport.

“It’s basically getting all the best players together in one tournament to compete against each other, and that’s what you want at the highest level,” Westwood said. “You want all the best players there.”

One of five founding members of the USGA, the 7,024-yard, par-70 Newport Country Club was originally supposed to host the Senior Open in 2020 that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been looking forward to this event now for quite a few years,” said Ernie Els, a four-time major champion who has five victories on the senior tour. “I was really looking forward to it in 2020, and I’m glad it’s come around now.”

Golfers out for practice rounds said the seaside course reminded them of a British links-style track — especially in the way the wind has such a big effect on how it plays. On Tuesday morning, the wind was blowing in their faces on the first tee; by the afternoon, it had swung around 180 degrees.

“We played with some big winds yesterday and some different winds today,” said Brett Quigley, a native Rhode Islander and sort of unofficial host of the tournament. “It’s going to play significantly different depending on the wind direction. That will be part of the great challenge.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press