Here’s a list of pretty decent golfers, everyone a multiple winner in their time: Matt Kuchar, Robert MacIntyre, Victor Perez, Rasmus & Nicolai Hojgaard, Rickie Fowler, Matt Wallace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.
Don’t look for them in the list of Masters runners this week - they’re not there.
Nothing new in that. It happens every year: players with proven ability to take a hand in the outcome not invited, not qualified. That’s why I’m with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in what is admittedly a minority in saying that, while the Masters might be the most enjoyable Major, the other three are more important.
After all, they are full-blown championships. If you’re good enough, you’re in … whereas the Masters is an invitation event with a field this year of only 88, seven of them amateurs and another seven long-past-it Augusta heroes there just for the reunion, the craic and the dinner.
But this year the Masters has added importance: it is the first time on US soil that the LIV Golf breakaways are teeing it up against the PGA Tour loyalists. Eighteen of the LIV flock, barred from the Players Championship which likes to brag it boasts the best field of the year including the Majors, get a shot at a Green Jacket. So Sunday’s new champion can rightly claim to have beaten the best.
While LIV’s rebels are persona non grata in PGA-run tournaments, at least until all the legal shenanigans are sorted out, thankfully for them the Masters is run by the Augusta members, the US Open is under the jurisdiction of the USGA, the PGA Championship is run by the PGA of America and our Open is an R & A production.
So this week is a first, a landmark Masters, and Augusta supremo Fred Ridley has fingers and everything else crossed he won’t be announcing a LIV winner of his precious tournament on Sunday and Scottie Scheffler won’t be tasked with helping a LIV defector into the fabled Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.
There are bound to be frosty, awkward moments during the week no doubt starting with Scheffler’s Champions Dinner when the Texas Ribeye was likely to have been more tender than the handshakes for LIV’s six Masters winners, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Reed. As long as they keep Rory and Sergio apart …
Being such traditionalists, the Augustans would always wish to have their past champions around and it would also have devalued this 87th edition if the powers-that-be did not welcome the reigning Open champion Cameron Smith.
The nightmare scenario for the Masters and the PGA now is LIV domination of this special week in the calendar. Could it happen? Sure. Will it happen? The bookies don’t think so with Smith rated their best chance at 20/1 with only the Big Three, Scheffler, McIlroy and Rahm, plus Augusta specialist Jordan Spieth, ahead of him in the betting.
But a far more likely party-pooper, given the Open champion’s modest form since winning the weak Australian PGA title in November, is surely four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka, now back close to his best after a dispiriting series of wrist and leg injuries. It’s been a long road but a fully functioning Koepka is a fearsome prospect.
While he was in the process of winning for the second time in four LIV starts in Orlando, I was helping myself to the 60/1 and 66/1 on offer for the Masters (now all gone), not necessarily because I think this big-occasion colossus is going to win but because, now that he’s firing on all cylinders, those were by some way the wrong prices.
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