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PA photo by Steven Paston via AP / Phil Mickelson plays on the 18th hole at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire, England, during Wednesday's pro-am event ahead of the LIV Golf series debut near London.

So the LIV starts Thursday.

No, football fans, the LIV is not a replay of the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl win a couple years ago.

It is the much ballyhooed, highly controversial golf tour that is guaranteeing payouts, doing away with cuts, sharing profits and offering a slew of player-based bonuses and benefits in an effort to lure top names from the traditional PGA Tour.

Yes, they are doing it with the backing of Saudi billionaires, including one crown prince who has been implicated in the murder of an American journalist who wrote unflattering opinions of the prince in the Washington Post. Many have claimed it's an attempt by those Saudi leaders to "sportswash" their history and legacy of human rights atrocities.

Still, the actual golf starts Thursday, and what felt like a sideshow — a golfing version more parallel with the XFL than the original USFL or ABA in terms of competing with the name brand leagues — is clearly serious and threatening. And if the PGA Tour did not realize it before, they best realize it now.

Reports surfaced Wednesday that 2020 U.S. Open winner and monster tee ball masher Bryson DeChambeau and 2018 Masters winner and U.S. Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed were headed to the big money of the LIV.

Sure, personally, those two are as likable as a Carrot Top movie marathon. But the LIV is buying names, and whether the PGA wants to admit it or not, in the fading days of Tiger Woods' career, the LIV can offer Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and DeChambeau with a second wave of aging but still recognizable names such as Reed, Rickie Fowler (reportedly), Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. Because if you can separate the Saudis' oil-based and allegedly blood-soaked money from the conversation — and if you can't, that's fine, too — the possibilities are way more intriguing than I would have expected four months ago, when Mickelson's famous quote was floated and all of the PGA Tour appeared galvanized against Mickelson, commissioner Greg Norman and LIV Golf in general.

Let's start with Mickelson, who broke his silence this week and has committed to making his return from self-exile after his comments by playing the LIV event. He is one of the last entries in the field, and as a six-time major champion and the oldest player to ever win a major, he is clearly the biggest name in that tour.

His comments this week — including an admission that his gambling issues threatened his family's financially security at one point, even though he has made hundreds of millions of dollars — showed a humbleness and even a sadness. As he discussed the reasons why — money, sure, and you have to believe Phil is going to cash a nine-figure check just for committing to the LIV — as well as the sacrifices and self-evaluation come through, too.

Norman also spoke this week, flashing his Shark teeth at a slew of adversaries, calling out the PGA Tour, saying Rory McIlroy is brainwashed, calling Jack Nicklaus a hypocrite and even sharing some details that it appears the LIV folks offered Tiger Woods folks "high nine figures" to join Mickelson in the move to the new tour.

There are still a slew of looming hurdles. The streaming TV options are less than ideal. Tickets are far from flying off the racks, and even some of the top names in the field had a hard time giving them away. The reports of the Saudis' heavy-handedness in terms of media coverage — the LIV hired Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, to be its media spokesman — and fan behavior are parts draconian and doctoral, and likely a slew of other D-words that I will have to look up later.

And who's doubting their intentions on enforcing their way of doing things, and who knows what else could happen with those scary mothers — right, Phil? Best not three-putt just to be safe.

It will also be very interesting to see how much ESPN and Golf Channel and the rest of the traditional PGA broadcast partners cover the LIV this weekend. But through Mickelson's infamous quotes — remember Norman's claims that several bigger names backed out at the 11th hour after Mickelson rallied on the Saudis, and a few of those appear to be back in the folds (of cash) — and the controversy and the threats of banishment from the PGA and all of it, you have to believe Norman and Co. are pleased with the potential of the field and the product heading into the debut event. Will it last? Hard to know with the questions looming.

But as long as we're paying $4.59 a gallon, it will be very well funded.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and read columns like this one each weekday morning in the "5-at-10" at timesfreepress.com.

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