Masters a reunion of the world's best players. But the numbers are shrinking

Updated Apr. 10, 2024 3:41 p.m. ET

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — More than golf's first major championship of the year, the Masters represents unification. This is the first time since July at the British Open the best players regardless of their tours compete against each other — same course, same tournament, same television network.

“I believe everyone agrees there's excitement in the air this week,” Masters Chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday. “The best players in the world are together once again.”

Still unclear at Augusta National is for how much longer.

Saudi-funded LIV Golf has 13 players at the Masters, seven of them former champions who can play as long as they want. That's down from 18 a year ago. Only nine LIV players are assured of being back to Augusta National next year, depending on how they fare in the majors this year.


Ridley offered little hope the pathway for LIV to Augusta National was about to get wider.

He said the Official World Golf Ranking was a “legitimate determiner” of the best in golf, bad news for a rival league that does not get world ranking points. And while the Masters annually reviews its criteria for invitations, Ridley announced no new changes.

Instead, he leaned on the Masters being an invitational, and the club alone decides who it deems worthy of getting that elegant, cream-colored invitation in the mail.

“If we felt that there were a player or players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to the Masters, we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations,” Ridley said.

The battle is for a green jacket, but that might not be the only competition.

It will be difficult to look at a leaderboard without considering who is with LIV Golf. That much hasn't changed from last year — the first Masters since LIV was launched — and LIV certainly showed the 54-hole, no-cut league didn't affect them. Three players were among the top four on the final leaderboard.

And just like last year, there is no animosity inside the ropes.

Phil Mickelson and Joaquin Niemann from LIV Golf played a practice round with Akshay Bhatia, the final player into the field because of his Texas Open victory last week. Xander Schauffele told of running into Dustin Johnson and the two decided to play a practice round, no different from what would have happened long before LIV began luring away players with guaranteed riches.

But the future remains murky.

Augusta National and the other three organizations that run majors have seats on the OWGR board that reviewed LIV's application to join and get world ranking points. The vote was unanimous not to award points until certain enhancements were met.

LIV eventually decided to withdraw its application, and several players decried the world ranking as no longer relevant.

It is to Ridley and the Masters. The top 50 at the end of the year and a week before the Masters still get invitations. Bryson DeChambeau said the majors, including the Masters, should invite the top 12 from the LIV points list.

Ridley wasn't buying that.

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they’re basically — not totally, but for the most part — a closed shop,” Ridley said. "There is some relegation, but not very much.

“But I don't think that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”

That's what led Augusta National to offer an invitation to Niemann. The club did not cite anything he did on LIV — the Chilean has two LIV wins this year — but his willingness to travel outside LIV and win the Australian Open, along with a top finish in the Australian PGA.

Talor Gooch did not get an invitation. He won three LIV events last year and later suggested Rory McIlroy would have an asterisk next to his name if he won the Masters because all the best aren't there.

Gooch is unlikely to be missed, not with Scottie Scheffler going for a second green jacket, with McIlroy chasing the career Grand Slam, Tiger Woods playing for only the second time this year and a host of others from all tours chasing one of golf's most prized possessions.

And then the PGA Tour will head to Hilton Head and LIV Golf will make its way to Australia, and they all have to wait until the next major May 16-19 at the PGA Championship.

“There's a lot of people a lot smarter than me that could figure this out in a much more efficient way,” Jon Rahm said. “But the obvious answer is that there’s got to be a way for certain players in whatever tour to be able to earn their way in. That’s the only thing can I say. I don’t know what that looks like. But there’s got to be a fair way for everybody to compete.”


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