With 18 LIV players in the field of 88 at Augusta National this week – that’s 20.45 percent of the field if you want specifics – there’s no doubt that the rebels are going to be a major part of the narrative at the year’s first major.
Add in the fact that six of the competitors are 55-plus and not expected to be realistic contenders – though try telling that to Bernhard Langer – and a further seven are amateurs, and we’re close to one in four.
One of the biggest criticisms of LIV since its inception has been the lack of quality competition and any real incentive – besides the obvious financial one – for the high-profile players to work hard off the course. These claims have been bolstered by the relatively lacklustre performances of Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Bryson DeChambeau etc. this season, both in LIV’s own events and in the International Series tournaments they’ve played, though Brooks Koepka’s victory at LIV Orlando at the weekend was a significant shot in the arm.
Last year, the Masters and PGA Championships both took place prior to LIV’s maiden event, the US Open a week after, and the Open Championship five weeks after LIV got the ball rolling in London. The defecting players were as well-tuned in terms of top-class competition as any of their PGA Tour counterparts, and considerably more so than any of the DP World Tour faithful who didn’t have PGA Tour status. How they fared in last year’s US and British Opens was in no way a reflection of LIV itself, but this year is a different story.
It would come as little surprise to anybody if Smith, DJ, Koepka, Patrick Reed or Joaquin Niemann appeared on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday, even Louis Oosthuizen, Talor Gooch and Jason Kokrak are potential contenders based on their past success and performances prior to jumping ship, but for LIV’s own integrity’s sake, at least one of them has to be there.
A LIV player winning The Masters would be the best possible riposte to the ‘merely an exhibition’ mantra that has been widely touted since it’s arrival – for the record, I’ve seen exhibition golf (and snooker, darts, football etc.) and though LIV is far from the apex of competition, it’s far from an exhibition as well – and would be definitive proof that joining the renegade league doesn’t mean your game has to suffer as a result.
But if the first couple of pages of the board are populated with a who’s who of the PGA Tour and the LIV players an effective footnote, then the standard of play on the ’54’ tour will really be brought into question.
Only DJ, Brooks, Smith, Bryson, Reed, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson are guaranteed to come back next year, with the remaining nine likely relying on strong enough performances in this year’s majors to earn an invitation. Of course, the world rankings situation being resolved or the DP World Tour court ruling – two months and counting since the hearing, by the way – favouring LIV players could open alternative doors, but that’s a pretty big ‘if’ at this stage.
It’s not quite ‘now or never’ stakes, but there’ll not be many better chances.
With the whole world watching, they need a big gun to step up to the plate
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