Golf: LIV players eligible for 2023 Masters Tournament

LIV has lured away some of the sport’s biggest names with huge purses, with those who joined no longer eligible to play in PGA Tour events. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - Augusta National will open its doors to LIV Golf’s biggest names, confirming on Tuesday that players from the breakaway tour will be eligible to compete in the 2023 Masters if they meet the established qualifying criteria.

The decision will be viewed as a major victory for the Saudi-backed series with the PGA Tour having suspended players jumping across to the rebel circuit.

LIV Golf has lured away some of the US-based PGA Tour’s top players with huge sums of money, leading to a simmering feud and a lawsuit within the sport.

“Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it,” said Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley in a statement, without mentioning LIV Golf by name.

“Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honour the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.

“We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport, At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again.”

Under current criteria LIV’s marquee names, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Charl Schwartzel will all tee it up on April 6-9 at Augusta National qualifying for the year’s first Major as past Masters champions which comes with a lifetime exemption.

British Open champion Cameron Smith, former US Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka and former US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau will also receive invitations with winners of the three other Majors earning five-year Masters exemptions.

“I believe they made the right decision,” DeChambeau said. “This Masters will be one of the most exciting Masters in many years.”

The Masters criteria also includes the top 50 in the official world golf rankings (OWGR) at the end of 2022 which currently includes LIV defectors Abraham Ancer, Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen.

Ridley lamented the divisions within the sport at the moment and did not rule out amending the club’s qualifying criteria in the future, hinting that changes could be made in April.

The British Open has indicated LIV golfers who meet qualifying standards will be welcome while the US Open and the PGA Championship have not yet confirmed their entry criteria.

Critics maintain that LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, amounts to “sportswashing” by a nation trying to improve its reputation in the face of criticism over its human rights record.

The 9/11 Families United, an advocacy group comprised of family members and survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center, issued a statement urging Augusta National to re-consider its decision.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept 11, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia. However, the kingdom has long denied a role in the attacks.

“If they (the LIV golfers) are welcomed with open arms, we will be at their front door to protest in April,” the group said. REUTERS, AFP

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