The Asian golf Tour is now seen as a threat by its PGA and European counterparts following a lucrative partnership with a company backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), former world number one Lee Westwood said on Wednesday.
The Asian Tour is set for a major overhaul this season with the introduction of 10 new marquee events in Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East and London.
The 10 events, known as the International Series, are sanctioned by the Asian Tour and backed by LIV Golf Investments, with prize money of $1.5-2 million on offer for each tournament. The Asian Tour said on Tuesday that LIV Golf Investments had increased its backing from $200 to $300 million.
"The players of the other tours see the Asian Tour as a threat now, don't they, because of the huge investment. It's kind of like a game of poker really where the European Tour and the PGA Tour have had the biggest hand," Briton Westwood told reporters ahead of the Saudi International.
The tournament in Jeddah, which starts on Thursday, is sponsored by the PIF.
"Now there's somebody else come to the table with more chips, so everybody is on their guard and very defensive... nobody can deny that. There wouldn't have been all this trouble with releases and things like that if that wasn't the case," Westwood said.
The Jeddah event boasts a strong field including Americans Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, Spain's Sergio Garcia and Briton Tommy Fleetwood.
"I can see why they feel threatened, (but) the PGA Tour and the European Tour have gone into areas I suppose in the Asian Tour's path over the years and never had problems playing tournaments all over Asia and the Middle East, which I think has probably cost Asia as well," said the 48-year-old Westwood, who has won more than 40 tournaments across five continents during his long career.
"Now that the Asian Tour has this backing, it appears to me like they're just doing what the PGA Tour and the European Tour have been doing the last 25 years."
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru, Editing by Ed Osmond)