close
Sunday May 26, 2024

Scheffler, McIlroy seek history as LIV-PGA feud hits Masters

By AFP
April 02, 2023

AUGUSTA: Top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler and world number two Rory McIlroy will chase historic triumphs at next week’s 87th Masters while the PGA Tour-LIV Golf feud makes its debut at Augusta National.

Scheffler will try to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only back-to-back Masters winners.

“I have a couple things to work on before Augusta, but definitely plenty of confidence going in,” Scheffler said.

Scheffler, who has won the Players Championship and Phoenix Open this year, seeks the first Masters repeat since Woods in 2002.

“I’m not going to think of myself as the defending champion,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there like I usually do, try and execute shots and play good solid rounds of golf.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who has not captured a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, tries to complete a career Grand Slam by taking a green jacket.

“Everything feels in really good order,” McIlroy said. “Just work on some things I know I’ll need and just make sure I’m ready and rested.”

McIlroy, who won at Dubai in January, has confidence he can join Woods, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen with the career Slam.

“I’ve always known that I have the game to win at this place,” McIlroy said. “It’s just a matter of having that game for four days in a row.”

Woods, a 15-time major winner, will return to the course where he made his comeback last year from severe leg injuries suffered in a 2021 car crash.

But the most intense sub-plot entering the year’s first major tournament is the showdown between players in the Saudi-backed rebel LIV Golf League and the PGA Tour, which has banned all LIV golfers from its events.

Majors have allowed LIV golfers who qualify to compete. At the Masters, last played before LIV’s debut last June, that includes 18 LIV players, six of them past Masters winners -- Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson.

Throw in other LIV stars like reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and 2020 US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and tensions could get heated down Magnolia Lane.

“It’s probably going to be tense in a few moments,” two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw said.

Woods anticipated an awkward Masters Champions Dinner. “Some of our friendships have certainly taken a different path, but we’ll see,” Woods said.

“Realizing the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally or emotionally, there’s a lot there.”

LIV golfers have something to prove about remarks their events don’t provide proper major preparation.

“For us, internally, it’s kind of a pride thing,” Smith told The Golf Channel. “There’s a lot of chatter going around about, ‘These guys don’t play real golf anymore.’ I think it’s BS. We just want to show people.

“I think it’s important to go there and play well, really show a high standard of golf which we know we’re all capable of.”

Watson, Reed and Koepka don’t expect LIV golfers will be poorly received.

“It’s only awkward in the media,” Watson said. “I’ve talked to people that are going to be there... Some guys have already asked me to play some practice rounds.”

“We see each other quite a bit,” Koepka said. “There are a lot of conversations. I was talking with Rory for probably about 30 minutes... No one is angry at anybody from what I’ve seen.”

The quest for a green jacket trumps LIV versus PGA notions, Reed said.

“Storylines are going to be obviously LIV versus PGA, but really at the majors... it doesn’t matter what tour they’re on.”

Champions Dinner host Scheffler hopes for the best but admits he’s unsure what to expect.

“I’m not quite sure what the vibes will be like, but I think we’re all there to celebrate being past champions,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll put all that other stuff aside and just have a good time together.”

“It will be fine,” said England’s Danny Willett, 2016 Masters champion. “We’re all grown adults. We’ve all earned our right to be there.”