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Do not be fooled, LIV golf rivalry will be as potent as ever at Augusta

LIV Golf team champions/Don't be fooled, the LIV golf rivalry will be as potent as ever at Augusta
LIV Golf backers would love to see one of their own don the Green Jacket in Augusta this week - AP/Scott Taetsch

They are all fine with each other now… There is no animosity, no bitterness, no desire for vengeance, no need to prove that this circuit is better than that Tour… Blessedly, Augusta will just be about the golf and the golfers, not about any external rivalry caused by two years of golfing civil war… It’s simply the media building up a non-story… There is nothing to see here…

And if you believe all that, you probably also believe that Amen Corner is made of cheese.

Let us be clear, that no matter what the protagonists say and regardless of whatever negotiations are going on in the background, the LIV Golf saga is, very much, a big part of this Masters. Indeed, it could even be the central narrative if we get a loyalist and a rebel fighting it out down the stretch on Sunday.

Of course, we essentially had that last year with Jon Rahm overhauling Brooks Koepka. Except, Rahm was never truly against the Saudi-funded circuit and Koepka has always been about himself first and did not join in the verbal fusillades that flew this way and that in the peak of the split.

We all now know that Rahm has jumped ship – for reportedly £400 million – and that LIV has three of the last five major-winners in their ranks. What Greg Norman would give to be able to say “four out of six” and how the negotiating team headed by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the £600 billion Saudi sovereign wealth fund and chairman of LIV, would love to have that claim in their folder as they thrash out terms with the PGA Tour.

But then, Andy North, the two-time major winner who is here this week as ESPN analyst, does not think this would have any sway for the deal-makers. “I don’t think it makes any difference at this point,” he said. North is also in the camp that insists the hostilities are all but over and there is no recrimination between the players on either side. “That whole battle doesn’t hold a great deal of intrigue to me just because I don’t feel like it’s the war it once was,” he said.

North is plainly talking nonsense on the first point but maybe he is right on the latter, because Rory McIlroy has dropped his weapons and he was the chief marksman for the Tour, until its leaders shockingly signed the “framework agreement” with Al-Rumayyan last summer.

That mooted merger and McIlroy’s ceasefire has naturally calmed the tensions, but that does not mean they do not exist.

Take Scottie Scheffler’s comments a few weeks ago. The world No 1 is so nice and unassuming that he is as likely to pour petrol on the flames as he is to throw his Bible into an incinerator. Yet even he could not resist a dig.

“If the fans are upset, then they should look at the guys that left,” Scheffler said. “We had a tour, we were all together, and the people that left are no longer here. At the end of the day, that’s where the splintering comes from.”

Scheffler was speaking in response to the PGA Tour’s dreadful TV ratings in America. To date, they are 20 per cent down year on year and McIlroy has declared this is because the supporters are “losing interest” due to all the infighting and the fact that the best players are no longer playing against each other. Fair enough.

But what angers the Tour’s rank and file is that the likes of Bryson DeChambeau are also urging the powers-that-be to reach a compromise. “It needs to happen fast,” DeChambeau said last week. “It’s not a two-year thing. Like, it needs to happen quicker rather than later just for the good of the sport. Too many people are losing interest.”

You can understand why the loyalists are bemused by this. DeChambeau received $125 million, helped set the fire in motion and now is begging for the water wagons to do their magic. He also wants the LIV players to be able to return to play on the PGA Tour with no punishment for leaving. And therein lies the sticking point that is making these negotiations so complicated.

Peace has not yet broken out, not even nearly

How do the Tour and the Saudis reach a point that is satisfactory for both? When the Tour’s members feel happy to welcome back the defectors, to play side by side, week in, week out? Work that out and then there is a deal. Until then, the thirst for recrimination will remain.

So, no, peace has not yet broken out. Not even nearly. The civil war has merely entered a new phase, that is all. And as it is approaching the juncture that will define the shape of the professional male game for decades to come, each and every staging post is vital and that includes who holds the power in this year’s majors. Starting with the 88th Masters.

Certainly, the LIV players understand it. The 13 representatives stood proudly together for a photo last week, which Sergio Garcia captioned “we are coming for that Green Jacket”. Rahm seconded that sentiment. “I’m confident that one of us can get it done this year,” he said. “One of us”... and the ‘them’ are just as pumped.

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