With the PGA Tour season in the rearview mirror and the Masters seven months away, we’ve entered a strange new phase of the 2022 golf calendar: LIV watching season.
For the next few months until a tumultuous 2022 comes to a merciful conclusion, there’ll be no escaping the specter of the Saudi-funded tour. Even if you choose not to watch the streaming of the four remaining LIV Golf Invitational events over the next seven weeks, the breakaway circuit and its cast of players will be impossible to ignore.
Most noticeably, the Presidents Cup this month will be severely impacted by LIV, with the International team forced to contend with a more heavily favored American squad without at least a handful of banished players whom captain Trevor Immelman would have been counting on only months ago. That’s a tough pill for the PGA Tour to swallow.
There are 18 LIV Golf players expected to compete in this week’s flagship event on the DP World Tour, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which Rory McIlroy conceded will be “hard to stomach.” It is a deeply important event for some of those LIV guys in the field trying to maintain their standing among the crucial top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, most notably Abraham Ancer (No. 24), Kevin Na (No. 32) and Talor Gooch (No. 46). Gooch in particular is unlikely to remain in the top 50 at year’s end without picking up some much-needed points this week.
That year-end top 50 is the benchmark many will be keeping an eye on because it comes with an invitation to the 2023 Masters Tournament. Assuming Gooch does not get credited for the fact that he did meet the point standards to qualify for the Tour Championship had he not been suspended for joining LIV, that top 50 may be his last hope for returning to Augusta, where he tied for 14th this year in his Masters debut.
The Masters has not made any announcements regarding its qualifications or how it will handle LIV Golf players in April. Speculation has run rampant regarding potential bans or players who have gone to the other side being disinvited, but Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley has given no indication of what he might do.
There are 58 players who already meet the standard qualifications for getting invited to the 2023 Masters. Of those 58, 10 have signed with LIV Golf – six past champions (Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson); three major winners in the last five years (Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith); and one player who qualified and competed at East Lake (Joaquin Niemann).
… should the Masters make the choice not to invite LIV Golf players, it could have an historically small field in 2023 …
The 58 players qualified thus far is a fairly low number even by Masters standards. This time last year, there were 67 qualified players using the same criteria through the Tour Championship. The low count can be attributed to only three players getting in exclusively via finishing top 12 in last year’s Masters (Cameron Champ) or top four in the other majors (Mito Pereira and Tommy Fleetwood). Also, only Wyndham Championship winner Joohyung “Tom” Kim earned a spot exclusively by winning any of the 15 non-opposite PGA Tour events since the last Masters. (For comparison, only 17 players were qualified at this point in 2021 via top finishes in that year’s majors or a PGA Tour victory.)
There are 15 players inside the OWGR top 50 who are not yet otherwise qualified for Augusta, with seven of them LIV players: Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen (31), Na, Paul Casey (34), Jason Kokrak (39), Harold Varner III (44) and Gooch. Of those seven, four stand a reasonably good chance of hanging in there until the Dec. 31 deadline that the Masters recognizes.
The point in detailing this is that should the Masters make the choice not to invite LIV Golf players, it could have an historically small field in 2023 that harkens back before the days when it started attracting a more globally diverse field.
So while the Euro tour plays out its string culminating in its Dubai finale in November and the PGA Tour presents its last wraparound start with nine more Masters qualifying events this fall, we’ll be watching those rankings each week to see how those LIV guys fare without many substantive tour opportunities to earn precious points to go with the reams of cash they rake in during their exhibitions. Those Asian Tour International Series events in Morocco and Egypt in November aren’t likely to do much to help their OWGR bottom lines, but what few points they might be able to earn could prove critical to somebody on the bubble.
Barring an unforeseen surgical spike in their fortunes, we’ve probably seen the last of the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Branden Grace at the Masters. We may never see promising guys such as Sam Horsfield, Laurie Canter or Eugenio Chacarra tee it up at Augusta. Others such as Niemann, Casey, Oosthuizen, Ancer, Na and Gooch might just be hoping for one last chance at the green jacket.
Regardless of your perspective on the professional game’s hostile bifurcation, LIV Golf has changed the landscape of elite golf, and its aftershocks will reverberate for years to come.
And like it or not, it will define the next few months in particular more than any other tour on earth.
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
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