Viktor Hovland next target for LIV in headache for Europe’s Ryder Cup team

<span>Viktor Hovland has previously voiced criticism of the leadership of the PGA Tour.</span><span>Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images</span>
Viktor Hovland has previously voiced criticism of the leadership of the PGA Tour.Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Rising speculation that Viktor Hovland will be the next high-profile golfer to be coaxed to the LIV tour will increase the need for Ryder Cup Europe to apply a simple qualification process for golfers on the Saudi Arabian-backed circuit.

LIV is forging ahead with plans for 2025, which include new events and the recruitment of more players from the PGA and DP World Tours. The rate of turnover is likely to be increased by the number of golfers who had three-year contracts when joining LIV, which will expire at the end of 2024.

Related: No guaranteed Masters spots for LIV’s ‘closed shop’ golfers, says chairman

Chatter on the range at the LIV event in Miami this month and again at the Masters largely surrounded Hovland, the world No 6 who starred for Europe in the defeat of the United States in Rome last year. Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, who also played in that team, have subsequently joined LIV. Hovland missed the cut at the Masters and promptly withdrew from the PGA Tour’s $20m stop in Hilton Head this week.

The popular Norwegian has denied he was on the verge of joining LIV before. Yet he was sharply critical of Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, during this year’s Players Championship. Hovland is one of a number of players who are unhappy with the handling of a framework agreement reached last summer between existing tours and the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

“There were some things that were said that have been walked back on and then things have been very contradictory,” Hovland said. “As a leader of an organisation, I will want a person like that to take some ownership and say, hey, we made a couple of mistakes, but this is how we’re going to rectify it, instead of kind of sweeping it under the rug, which I felt like has been done to a certain degree.”

Any Hovland switch would cause headaches at the European Tour Group. Rahm and Hatton have retained their memberships of the DP World Tour, which is required for Ryder Cup participation, but are subject to fines and suspensions for playing on LIV. The bans are particularly problematic in respect of qualifying for or playing in the Ryder Cup, which takes place at Bethpage in New York next year. Guy Kinnings, the newly installed chief executive of the European Tour Group and a former Ryder Cup director, is under pressure to find a method by which the biennial event is not compromised while the DP World Tour is not seen to “give in” to LIV converts.

The US team is expected to announce its captain for Bethpage within the next fortnight. The PGA of America is waiting to hear whether Tiger Woods will accept the role or wait for Adare Manor and 2027. Should Woods pass on 2025, Stewart Cink is likely to assume the role. However, there is rising confidence Woods will be the captain.

Ludvig Åberg seems a certainty to play for Europe in umpteen Ryder Cups, after cementing his rising status with second place at Augusta National. It marked the 24-year-old Swede’s major debut.

“Everyone in my position, they are going to want to be major champions,” said Åberg. “They are going to want to be world No 1 and it’s the same for me, there is nothing different.

“It’s been that way ever since I picked up a golf club and that hasn’t changed. So I think Masters week solidifies a lot of those things are there, and we just need to keep doing those things and put ourselves in positions to win tournaments.”

Åberg’s performance in Georgia has moved him to a career high of seventh in the world rankings. He insisted he is perfectly relaxed about the increased attention he will encounter after his Masters exploits.

“I’m OK with all these things that comes with it,” Åberg added. “Obviously my main focus is to play good golf and all the media things that comes with it is not really up to me. We are doing a lot of good stuff and that we are not going to change a whole lot.”