Could LIV-PGA rivalry affect relations between Masters players?
AUGUSTA, Ga. - This Masters has a full plate of activity, and LIV Golf would appear to be the main course.
The rivalry between PGA and LIV has been a topic of discussion for fans since LIV golf stepped onto the scene.
At Augusta National, it feels like folks are talking about it from the practice range to Amen Corner.
Rory McIlroy, perhaps the most vocal critic of the LIV Tour, on Tuesday discussed the dynamic between the LIV and PGA players at the Masters.
“It’s a very nuanced situation, and there’s different dynamics,” McIlroy said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
“It’s not as if I don’t see some of these guys” out and about, he said.
“It’s OK to get along with Brooks and D.J. and maybe not get along with some other guys,” he said.
But he said the Masters transcends any tension over the rivalry.
“This tournament is way bigger than that,” he said.
He and Brooks Koepka remain friends even though McIlroy is outspoken against the LIV Tour that Koepka is affiliated with.
In fact, they just played golf together the other day.
“I think everybody forgets that we see each other in off weeks and play with each other and talk with each other,” Koepka said. “There’s an open line of communication there between me and him. I think we’re both pretty honest in where we’re at.”
Is it a positive thing to show that Koepka and McIlroy get along?
“I guess you could say that,” Koepka said. “It’s more just two friends just wanting to play together. I guess you could look at it that way. But yeah, I just wanted to play with him, just compare my game.”
Cameron Smith addressed the matter Monday.
“It was good to see some familiar faces. 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,” he said.
Augusta National stressed the importance of still having the best players competing at the Masters despite the impact the division of the two tours has on the sport of golf.
While there were a lot of handshakes and hugs on the range, we only saw one group of LIV and PGA Tour players practicing together on the course.
Smith has not competed against the best of the PGA Tour since the Tour Championship last August. For the likes of Dustin Johnson, it’s been a little longer.
MORE FROM NEWS 12:
- Spieth would love another green jacket, ‘maybe a little bigger’
- Fred Couples discusses friendship with Tiger Woods
- Q&A with Aiken golfer Kevin Kisner ahead of Masters
- Dustin Johnson plans to enjoy Masters week, catch up with friends
- Being back in Augusta for Masters is ‘special’ for Jason Day
It didn’t take long for the mix of players from two tours to cause a stir. The practice round tee sheet listed a most tantalizing foursome of Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Tom Kim and Bryson DeChambeau, who complained only last week that Woods had cut him off ever since the former U.S. Open champion went to LIV.
Turns out it was a Masters mix-up. The fourth was Rory McIlroy, the loudest PGA Tour supporter over the last year.
Couples has made his thoughts clear, recently saying at a PGA Tour Champions breakfast that Phil Mickelson was a “nut bag” and Sergio Garcia a “clown.”
Couples, the 1992 Masters champion and still immensely popular, says he has no personal beef with either and would have no trouble sitting with them at the Masters Club dinner on Tuesday night or playing in the same group.
“I have no problem with any of them,” Couples said. “Just please do not bash a tour that I have 43 years invested in. It bothers the hell out of me. They don’t bother me. They really don’t. They’re golfers. I’m a golfer. I respect them all.”
The Masters typically releases tee times on Tuesday afternoon, and that has become an event to see which LIV players — 18 of them are at the Masters — will be in the same group as PGA Tour loyalists.
Shane Lowry played with two LIV golfers — Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen — at the U.S. Open last summer. Adam Scott played with Johnson and Marc Leishman at St. Andrews.
“Look, obviously there’s going to be some pairings that are going to be interesting this week,” Lowry said. “I always say this about professional golfers. We all work in the same office. If you work in the same office, you’re not going to like everyone in there. Same way as this. I met Dustin on the range — I always get on well with Dustin. It was good to see him.”
“There’s a lot to hype,” Lowry said. “But if you’re paired with whoever, you don’t really care about what they’re doing. You’re just trying to win the tournament.”
One question about LIV golfers is how much they’re playing, as the new circuit has had only three events in 2023. Smith played five times going into the Masters last year, and he briefly challenged Scottie Scheffler until the Texan pulled away to win his first major.
This year he has played four times — the only 72-hole event was the Saudi International on the Asian Tour, where he missed the cut. That was followed by three 54-hole LIV events, the last two finishing out of the top 20.
Smith is not in peak form, which he attributes to a long break at home in Australia during the offseason. But Augusta National tends to bring out the best in him, and he’s hoping the good vibes will lead to a great performance.
If not him, then Smith would love to see another LIV player with a shot at the green jacket.
“I think it’s just important for LIV guys to be up there because I think we need to be up there,” Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of chatter about these guys don’t play real golf, these guys don’t play real golf courses. For sure, I’ll be the first one to say, the fields aren’t as strong. I’m the first one to say that.
“But we’ve still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week-in and week-out and we’re trying to do the same things that we did six months ago.”
Brooks Koepka is coming off a one-shot victory last week in LIV Golf-Orlando, where the greens were crusty and brown and fast. It was played on the Crooked Cat course at Orange County National, where the PGA Tour used to stage Q-school.
Johnson was asked about any similarities between Crooked Cat and Augusta National.
“I don’t think you could have those in the same sentence, other than I played there last week and I’‘m playing here this week,” Johnson said.
Copyright 2023 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.