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Competing tours converge on Augusta National chasing the same prize

Jon Rahm Jon Rahm - The Canadian Press

Jon Rahm went from wearing a Masters green jacket in April to a LIV Golf black letterman’s jacket in December.

Those two images — one in Butler Cabin with Scottie Scheffler, the other in a New York studio with Greg Norman — illustrate the great divide in golf that has scattered the sport's biggest stars across two tours. The rival circuits are not pitted against each other, and therein lies the problem facing golf: They're never together.

That's what makes the Masters feel bigger than ever.

It already is the most anticipated tournament of any year because of Augusta National and all the history and memories it has created over 90 years. One year after the PGA Tour and LIV first mixed at the Masters, it now feels like a reunion long overdue.

“The first time there was that split, this war between the tours,” Xander Schauffele said. "It brought a lot of eyeballs because of that — sort of LIV versus the PGA Tour kind of thing. ... I think the tone might be different from a fan's perspective.

“But I think it will still be great viewing,” he said. “One, it's the Masters. And two, I think everybody is just probably excited to see everyone compete again.”

When the first tee shot in the 88th Masters Tournament is struck on April 11, it will be the first time in 263 days that all the world's best players will be chasing the same prize.

Rahm and Scheffler. Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. Even aging stars Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Savor these moments, because there doesn't seem to be peace in the immediate future.

The PGA Tour invited the Saudi backers of LIV Golf to the table in a stunning agreement last June to become commercial partners.

But then Congress got involved. The Justice Department had antitrust concerns. The tour began receiving offers from U.S. private equity groups. As the tour narrowed its list of suitors, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia flexed its financial muscle by luring away Rahm with an offer believed to be in the neighborhood of the tour's entire prize fund for the year.

The PGA Tour tour now has a $3 billion investment from a consortium of billionaire sports owners in the U.S., all while still negotiating with the Saudis. A month before the Masters, Woods, Spieth and the rest of the player-directors on the PGA Tour board met for the first time with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor who refers to LIV as his “baby.

LIV doesn't appear to be going anywhere, and there is no consensus on how to bring LIV players back into the fold, if they even want to come back.

“We can't keep going this direction,” Bryson DeChambeau said. “It's great to have the majors where we all come together, but we want to be competing — at least I want to be competing — every week with all of the best players in the world.”

The closest the two tours have been to each other was early February — about 300 miles (480 kilometers) separated the Phoenix Open from LIV Golf Las Vegas. Otherwise, they feel galaxies apart.

For now, the boundaries only vanish at the four majors. That starts with the Masters.

“That's what is making this Masters and many other majors so much fun — not only for me and for players, but for spectators — is for all of us to be able to play together again and showcase what we're capable of,” Rahm said.

The show starts with Scheffler, the undisputed No. 1 in the world even with LIV players plunging in the ranking because their league does not get points.

His tee-to-green statistics are among the best since the peak years of Woods. And then Scheffler got the putter going and he won against two of the strongest fields in consecutive weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship. His most recent start was a runner-up finish in the Houston Open.

Rahm has been watching — that's about all he can do. And the Masters provides an arena for him to have a say about that.

“I'm fully aware of where Scottie is,” Rahm said. "I don't need to be playing next to him to know what's going on. Anytime you’re doing the history he’s been able to do, it’s quite impressive.”

The only history that matters to McIlroy is joining the most exclusive club in golf. Only five players have won the four professional majors dating to the inception of the Masters in 1934. Woods was the most recent in 2000, and he got it done at the British Open on his first try.

Of the other four players with the career Grand Slam, no one waited longer than three years to get the last leg. McIlroy is going on his 10th year, and it's been that long — 10 years — since he won any major championship.

“I'm under no illusion that the clock is ticking and it has been 10 years since I've won one of them,” McIlroy said. “I just need to keep putting myself in those positions, and sooner or later it's going to happen.”

This is his 16th Masters. Only one player — Sergio Garcia — has played the Masters more often before finally winning. Garcia won his green jacket in his 19th attempt.

McIlroy won in Dubai at the start of the year, though his PGA Tour performance has been mediocre by his standards. He has been at the forefront of this disruption in golf, going from one of LIV's loudest critics to resigning from the PGA Tour board and now pushing as hard as anyone for golf to find harmony, even if that means bringing back LIV players without penalty.

Woods has been the strongest and steadiest opposition to LIV Golf, and now the biggest name in the sport is lending his voice by getting an unlimited term on the PGA Tour board. He also was behind a change that gives players a majority on the board.

As for golf? That remains a mystery, as it has for the last five years since he capped that remarkable comeback from four back surgeries by winning a fifth green jacket and his 15th major. Woods had ankle surgery after last year's Masters and is walking better. His ambitious goal was to play once a month through the major championship season.

That hasn't gone to plan, not even close. Woods has played only 24 holes in one tournament this year, withdrawing after six holes of the second round at Riviera with the flu.

There remains a curiosity about the divide and how they perform. Rahm has played only five times since November leading up to the Masters. Is that enough? What does guaranteed cash do for motivation?

Those questions might have been answered last year. Koepka was runner-up at the Masters along with Mickelson. Patrick Reed was another shot behind. Koepka won the PGA Championship. Cameron Smith was fourth at the U.S. Open.

“This has kind of been my time,” Koepka said as he goes after a sixth major since 2017.

And now it's everyone's time to get on the same golf course, in the same clubhouse, on the same range chasing the same prize, with no emphasis on money. That doesn't happen very often these days.


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