AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods is playing for just the fifth time since nearly losing his leg, or worse, in a horrific accident 26 months ago.
Scottie Scheffler is attempting to become just the fourth golfer to win in back-to-back years.
And 49 of the top 50 golfers in the world are in the field.
Yet, the biggest storyline out of the 2023 Masters has to do with a breakaway golf league that has caused the sport to fracture and has directed nearly all of the attention away from the course in the last year.
For the first time, LIV Golf has a major presence at the Masters. And a spotlight will be on the progress of the 18 golfers in the field who have defected from the PGA Tour to join the league financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
LIV Golf and the PGA Tour have become bitter rivals and many wondered what it would be like with golfers from both tours sharing the same locker room, range and putting green ahead of Thursday’s first round at Augusta National.
Especially after this warning from LIV’s Joaquin Niemann:
“There is a big rivalry right now between the Tour and LIV,” said Niemann, who lives in North Palm Beach. “I think there is a lot of players that — I don’t know if they don’t like us or don’t like the decisions (made by LIV golfers) — but it’s going to be fun.
“I think it’s going to be more fun knowing that they hate us, then go to the majors and beat them.”
But so far, it’s been nothing but handshakes and smiles … for the most part.
“I’ve noticed a tone … the tone has been really good here this week,” Masters chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday. “I’ve noticed the players are interacting.
Champions Dinner goes well
“Last night at the Champions Dinner, I would not have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm. So I think, and I’m hopeful, that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change.”
That is unlikely, not as long as lawsuits continue to be filed. But that is off the course. Other than a report of LIV golfers planning a celebration on or around the 18th green if one of them wins the tournament (verified by commissioner Greg Norman) and a few saying how much of a boost that would give the league, the reunion has been without controversy.
“It was good to see some familiar faces,” LIV’s Cameron Smith said Monday. “Lots of laughs and lots of handshakes. And it was really nice. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to expect walking on to the range but it was good to see some familiar faces and lot of smiles.”
“I’ve said hello to everyone,” Matthew Fitzpatrick said. “It’s been nice to see them.”
Jupiter’s Justin Thomas had steered clear of his LIV counterparts as of Wednesday, but isn’t saying if it is intentional.
“I haven’t really talked to any of them,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just been coincidence or I’ve just kind of had the blinders on. I’ve just been business. I’m not too worried about what they are doing and just trying to take care of myself.”
Ridley confirmed Wednesday the Masters did not extend an invitation to Norman, who called the snub “petty.” Ridley feared Norman’s presence would put more of a spotlight on LIV.
“The primary issue and the driver there is that I want the focus this week to be on the Masters competition,” Ridley said.
LIV, PGA Tour golfers separated for the most part in first two rounds
With the exception of one grouping, LIV golfers have been separated in the first two rounds. The only threesome with two LIV golfers includes Talor Gooch and Jason Kokrak, who will be playing with Sandy Lyle.
Jupiter’s Brooks Koepka is playing with Delray Beach’s Gary Woodland and Danny Willett. Dustin Johnson is in a group with fellow Jupiter resident Corey Connors and Justin Rose.
“It would be nice to validate the amount of talent that is over there on LIV, and I think a lot of guys are playing really well heading in,” Phil Mickelson said. “So I think it will be fun to watch.”
Especiallly if LIV golfers are in contention on Sunday.
The MastersAugusta NationalThursday-Sunday TV: Thursday-Friday ESPN Saturday-Sunday CBS
Source : ThePalmBeachPost