The golf world is buzzing with speculation after Open champion Cameron Smith's non-denial when asked if he was joining the LIV Golf Series, coupled with Greg Norman promising enough new recruits this week that LIV has "closed shop" on the 2023 roster.
Smith, whose historic victory Sunday at St. Andrews was followed by a testy exchange on his future plans, appears set by all reports to be the headliner this week when the startup league announces the latest defectors from the PGA Tour.
Smith was annoyed by a question about rumors he was jumping to the Saudi-financed league after winning his first major championship. He shot 64 Sunday to edge Jupiter's Cameron Young by one stroke.
Is Cameron Smith moving to LIV Golf?
“I just won the British Open, and you're asking about that," he bristled. "I think that's pretty not that good. I don't know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I'm here to win golf tournaments.”
The last time a major champion acted indignant when asked about speculation surrounding LIV was at the U.S. Open when Brooks Koepka accused journalists of "throwing a black cloud on the U.S. Open" as he was preparing to leave the PGA Tour.
Three days following another disappointing showing in a major, Koepka bailed and joined LIV. This came a few months after the Palm Beach County native and Jupiter resident labeled those who joined LIV as sellouts and said he would not chase the money.
Smith's game, unlike Koepka's and most of the Tour players who have defected, is on the rise. He jumped to No. 2 in this week's world rankings. Although he certainly would be the hottest golfer to join LIV this week, he is not expected to be alone.
LIV could add up to six names, according to multiple reports, including five ranked in the top 100 in the world.
Besides Smith, those strongly linked to LIV include No. 14 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 39 Adam Scott, No. 57 Marc Leishman, No. 84 Bubba Watson and No. 171 Henrik Stenson.
Matsuyama (2021), Watson (2014, 2012) and Scott (2013) are former Masters champions. Leishman was Smith's Australian Olympic teammate and Stenson is the current European Ryder Cup captain. He will be stripped of that title if he joins LIV.
Norman, the last Aussie to win the Open before Smith, is reportedly attempting to put together an all-Australian team that would include Smith, Scott, Leishman and one of the other Aussies who joined LIV. That list includes Matt Jones, Jed Morgan, Wade Ormsby and Blake Windred. Jones has two PGA Tour titles including the 2021 Honda Classic.
Norman added to the Smith speculation Sunday by congratulating his countryman on social media.
"Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! A spectacular final round mate. A triumph for you and for Australia as the first Australian to win in 29 years. You’re in good company. Enjoy every moment of your Open victory."
Smith reportedly will sign a $90 million contract to join LIV. Phil Mickelson is LIV's highest contracted golfer at a reported $200 million. Jupiter's Dustin Johnson reportedly jumped for $125 million and Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are thought to be making at least $100 million each.
Is Rickie Fowler still on LIV list?
One name linked to LIV Golf for weeks, although speculation has diminished, is Jupiter's Rickie Fowler. The 33-year-old appears to be a prime candidate considering his game has taken a dive in recent years. His world ranking of 149 is his lowest in about 12 years. Fowler has not won on the PGA Tour in nearly 3 1/2 years.
Fowler was last asked about LIV about a month ago.
"My plans are to continue playing the PGA Tour right now," he told Golf Channel. "But I also do think competition is a good thing, always has been. LIV is definitely interesting and intriguing and it's worth looking at. But, no, I haven't made any decisions on that and it's going to be interesting to see kind of how everything continues to play out."
A definite "maybe."
LIV Golf currently includes 21 of the top 100 golfers in the world, including nine of the top 42. Johnson (16) and Abraham Ancer (20) are the lone LIV golfers in the top 20. Koepka has dropped to No. 22 after missing the cut at The Open, his second missed cut in a major this year along with the Masters. Koepka's best finish in a major in 2022 was a T55.
LIV's next event is July 28 at Bedminster, N.J. Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace, both living in Jupiter, won the first two LIV events. LIV will award $25 million purses for its first seven events this year, $4 million to the winner, and a $50 million purse for the season finale at Doral outside of Miami.
Norman told The Palm Beach Post in an exclusive interview last week that after this week's announcements the 2023 field of 48 players is "closed." He was then asked what would happen if a highly ranked player expressed interest in joining LIV before the 2023 season starts in March.
"That is a great problem to have and we will discuss it internally to figure out what would need to be done, if anything," he said. "I've always respected and honored the first movers."
The PGA Tour is slapping an indefinite suspension on those who join the LIV Golf Series.
“Everybody, it feels like, is against us, and that’s OK," LIV golfer Talor Gooch said after the second round of The Open.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: LIV Golf: Is Cameron Smith, former Masters champions, jumping to tour?