AUGUSTA, GA — The mystery began in earnest last spring and continued until dusk in the fall. But Phil Mickelson — one of his best-known frontmen for LIV Golf, a league funded by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund — has confirmed that he will play in the 2023 Masters Tournament, which opens Thursday. claims to believe that is permissible.
Nevermind the discomfort and rivalries on the course turned into long-distance rage with politics, power, pride and money. No, Mickelson reasoned that the tradition would prevail at Augusta National Golf Club.
“The history of this tournament, the history of the Majors, is to bring together the best players and really have to navigate through all types of disruptions in the golf ecosystem,” three-time Masters winner Mickelson said in his final interview. T. month.
“I wasn’t too worried,” said Mickelson, who spent the 2022 Masters in self-imposed sports exile after effectively downplaying Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. admitted that there was “talk” about being excluded from one of the
Augusta National dropped the story on December 20th. Invitations for 2023 will be mailed to golfers who have qualified for the Masters in the familiar way, such as being past champions.
The choice of clubs, weather permitting, will have an impact on the grounds at least until Sunday, when the tournament is scheduled to end. All the conventional narratives surrounding major tournaments are bubbling up: Will Scottie Scheffler become the first repeat winner in over 20 years?Will Rory McIlroy finally complete his career grand slam? Will Rahm be able to regain his dominant winter form? And as always, what will Tiger Woods do?
But there is also an underlying cacophony of ambition, curiosity and gentlemanliness.
For LIV, the tournament will be a breakthrough if one of its players wears the winner’s green jacket. For the PGA Tour, the Masters is an opportunity to show that the traditional 72-hole approach to the game is still king. And for Augusta National, the event is an opportunity to present themselves as skeptical of the chaotic battles in golf.
Fred S. Ridley, president of Augusta National, said Wednesday, the day after the traditional gathering of past Masters winners. .
He added: “So I think and hope that people think a little differently this week and things might change.
It’s almost certain that this week won’t fall into an open brawl, and it really doesn’t. Some players have complained about the news media’s excessive focus on potential tensions, admitting they were also wondering about the atmosphere and pondering the stakes of the tour. increase.
LIV’s highest-ranked No. 6 Cameron Smith said PGA Tour players greeted him with hugs and handshakes. When asked what exactly he was expecting, he replied, “To be honest, I’m not sure.”
He seemed confident that LIV could deliver a strong result on the leaderboard around Augusta National’s hallowed stage.
“I think it’s important that the LIV guys are there because I think we need to be there,” he said. I think there’s a lot of them.They don’t play on a real golf course.I’m sure I’m the first to say the field isn’t that strong.I’m the first to say so,but really There are still plenty of players out there who can play serious golf.”
McIlroy looks like he’s nearing a saint in the eyes of PGA Tour executives with his solid defense of the circuit, but the Masters is “much bigger” than golf’s big brawler, and he’s one of the world’s 18 best men. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to play against LIV players. best golfer. He suggested that being close to them again could create a close relationship, but admitted that regaining intimacy does not guarantee lasting harmony.
“It’s a very delicate situation and different dynamics,” McIlroy said. Referring to Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, LIV’s stars and major winners, he added:
Augusta National is trying to keep the drama down, with at least two former secretaries of state believed to be on its undisclosed membership roster.
Thursday and Friday groupings are as painless as possible, at least in the context of the PGA Tour vs. LIV. Woods and Bryson DeChambeau recently suggested that Woods had nearly excommunicated him, but they wouldn’t be reunited at the first tee. Called PGA Tour fan Fred Couples is set to play alongside Russell Henry and Alex Nolen, while McIlroy is grouped with Sam Burns and Tom Kim.
And Ridley said Augusta National did not invite LIV Commissioner Greg Norman to the club where the leaders of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour recently held court.
“The main issue and impetus is that this week we want to focus on the Masters competition,” said Ridley. He said he believes Norman has attended two of her tournaments in the past decade, once as her radio commentator.
Ridley also sidestepped questions about whether Augusta National was complicit in “sportswashing” Saudi Arabia’s image.
“I certainly have a general understanding of the term,” said Ridley. It’s a player’s personal decision and I, at a high level, don’t necessarily agree.”
With tournament play set to begin Thursday morning, the week’s focus is quickly shifting to the competition itself. The event’s American television broadcasters seem unlikely to dwell on off-course topics unless they have to.
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, which will air Rounds 3 and 4 on Saturday and Sunday, said: “That said, unless it really impacts the story that’s going on on the golf course, we’re not going to go out of our way to cover it, and I’m not sure if there’s anything we can add to the story. .
ESPN, which will air the first two rounds of the tournament, has suggested it doesn’t care much for the geopolitical melodrama of golf. “I’ve never seen a mention of Roman numerals,” said Curtis Strange, a two-time U.S. Open champion and now commentator.
“We have to pay tribute to the Masters tournament,” he said. “The only way I could ever see anything wasn’t even mentioning the LIV, but some of these players didn’t play much competitive golf. So how sharp can they be?
Despite having played a 54-hole rather than 72-hole event, LIV golfers said they were prepared for the rigors of the Masters on a course questioned if they would be prepared for Augusta’s challenge. I’m here.
That dynamic will make this year’s tournament even more proving ground than usual. When Augusta National announced his entry criteria for the 2024 Masters on Wednesday, there were no immediate changes threatening the LIV player.
Mickelson’s bet was still proving safe.