Washington (AFP) – LIV Golf League players will be able to compete in next year’s Masters after Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Tuesday the event will keep “current criteria” for 2023 entrants.
Without mentioning the Saudi-backed upstart series by name, Ridley expressed disappointment with golf’s ongoing divide caused by LIV luring away top PGA Tour talent with record prize money for 54-hole events.
“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,” Ridley said.
“Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.
“Therefore, as invitations are sent this week, we will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete in the 2023 Masters tournament.”
Six former Masters champions are among 10 players currently qualified for next year’s first major golf showdown at the historic venue.
They include Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner and six-time major champion who was the first top player to push LIV Golf forward.
Other past Masters winners in LIV Golf eligible to return in 2023 include fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson plus Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South African Charl Schwartzel.
World number three Cameron Smith of Australia, the reigning British Open champion, is also among other LIV players who have qualified under the current criteria.
Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka qualify based on major triumphs within the past five years and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann has also locked up a spot.
LIV players in this year’s final world golf rankings will also qualify for the Masters.
That should seal Augusta tee times for South African Louis Oosthuizen, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Americans Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Talor Gooch and Harold Varner.
Other LIV Golf players could qualify by reaching the top 50 in the world golf rankings in the week before next year’s Masters.
Ridley said any future changes to Masters entry criteria would be announced in April at the tournament.
“We look at every aspect of the tournament each year, and any modifications or changes to invitation criteria for future tournaments will be announced in April,” Ridley said.
LIV Golf talent was allowed to compete in last year’s US and British Opens, the first two majors played following the launching of the series, which received criticism over its Saudi Arabian backing given the nation’s human rights issues.
“We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport,” Ridley said. “At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again.”
The decision will bring the PGA-LIV split into sharp focus at Augusta National, where stars from the rival circuits could be paired with one another, some with hard feelings over the divide that has fractured the sport.
The PGA Tour has banned LIV Golf players from its events. LIV players have competed in DP World Tour and Asian Tour events.
LIV Golf tournaments have not been granted world golf ranking points, a situation LIV is fighting but one that could see its top players slide down the world rankings and out of many qualifying criteria for future Masters tournaments.
For this year, the Masters move ensures the avoidance of a situation such as that faced at September’s Presidents Cup, when the loss of LIV Golf defectors led the International squad to lose half a roster of elite talent before losing to the Americans.
© 2022 AFP