Golf-Masters greats tee off on PGA Tour/LIV split

  • Golf
  • Friday, 12 Apr 2024

Golf - The Masters - Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - April 11, 2024 Jack Nicklaus of the U.S. hits his tee shot during the ceremonial tee off REUTERS/Mike Blake

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - After largely managing to keep a lid on any lingering friction from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf drama during Masters week, bitterness and concern surfaced on Thursday following the ceremonial opening tee shots.

Although both sides have struck a conciliatory tone as officials work to hammer out an agreement to unify the sport, golfing greats Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson were less diplomatic after launching the year's first major.

South African Player, 88, three-times winner at Augusta National, declared that loyalty must be rewarded and American Watson, 74, twice Masters champion, lamented the fractured state of the sport.

American Nicklaus, 84, owner of a record six Green Jackets, said the only solution was to have the best back playing against each other.

The frank views came a day after LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, unwelcome at Augusta National, thumbed his nose at officials when he appeared at Wednesday's practice as a ticketed patron, the Washington Post reported, in a show of support for his 13 players in the Masters field.

Player was clear that if he was playing today he would not be in the forgive and forget camp.

"Anytime in any business whatsoever, not only in the golf business, there's confrontation, it's unhealthy," Player said. "You've got to get together and come to a solution. If you cannot, it's not good.

"It's a big problem because they paid all these guys to join the LIV Tour. Fortunes, I mean, beyond one's comprehension.

"Now these guys come back and play, I really believe the players who are loyal should be compensated in some way or another. Otherwise, there's going to be dissension."

A deal between Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour was expected to be announced before the Masters but has yet to materialise.

The negotiations are believed to include compensation for those who stood by the PGA Tour should LIV members be welcomed back to take part in tournaments from which they are currently banned.

Nicklaus, record 18-times major winner and once reported to be a target for LIV Golf, said only one goal mattered and that was getting the game's top players going toe-to-toe as they are this week.

"The best outcome is the best players play against each other all the time," said Nicklaus. "That's what I feel about it."

Watson believes the solution lies with the players, rather than officials.

"We all know golf is fractured with the LIV Tour and the PGA Tour doing the different things they are doing," Watson said.

"We all know it's a difficult situation for professional golf right now.

"We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner, happy, the best players playing against each other.

"The bottom line is that's what we want in professional golf and right now we don't have it."

(Reporting by Steve Keating, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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