Augusta National, which has already been critical of the ongoing feud between the PGA Tour and upstart LIV Golf League, is about to become the front line in golf’s civil war as stars of the rival groups meet at the 87th Masters.
The Saudi-backed rebel series began last June with several big-name PGA Tour players jumping to the upstart circuit for record $25 million purses and 54-hole events despite concerns over Saudi human rights issues. The established PGA banned LIV players and a legal fight is set for a 2024 trial, but major tournaments have allowed LIV and PGA players who qualify to compete. That booked 18 LIV Golf players into the Masters, including seven of the past 13 green jacket winners.
The showdown on one of golf’s great stages has been anticipated ever since Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced in December there would be no qualifying changes for 2023. “Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it. Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming,” Ridley said.
The PGA Tour has reshaped itself to create more big-money events with smaller fields in response to the LIV Golf challenge. “It has been very turbulent. We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality. They are a competitive organization trying to create their best product they possibly can, and we’re trying to create the best product we think for the future of golf,” said 15-time major winner and five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods.
Cameron Smith leads the LIV golfers Charge at Augusta
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, needing a Masters win to complete a career Grand Slam, has championed the PGA and its changes, but says all players have benefitted from “the emergence of LIV” as a competitor. “This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour and what was quite an antiquated system is being revamped,” McIlroy said.
LIV does not receive world ranking points, a path used by half the LIV players to reach Augusta, so they need success in majors or at European or Asian events to earn future invitations. Several top LIV players don’t expect the spat to create awkward Masters moments or tense pairings. “A lot of the people competing in the Masters are friends for decades and I’m looking forward to seeing them again,” three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said.
Defending champion Scottie Scheffler hopes for a peaceful time. “With Augusta National being such a special place and with the history of the game and whatnot, I think we can put all our stuff aside,” he said. For 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed of LIV Golf, “it’s going to be business as usual.” Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka of LIV doesn’t anticipate animosity. “I don’t think that means anything personal with any of us. I’ve had relationships with them for 13-14 years maybe, Rory for the last 10. It has been blown up into a different situation than it really is. It’s just a business decision. We’re all the same people. We all get along,” Koepka said.
The 87th edition of the Masters Tournament, the first of the four majors, will be held from April 6–9 2023 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
SOURCE: AFP NEWS