By ED TRAVIS
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens wrote those words over a century and a half ago for the opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” and some thought these words could be equally applied to this year’s invitational started by Bob Jones.
The normal staid if not stuffy world of golf came to the first major of 2023 with a rift–no, make that a chasm–between the PGA Tour and the upstart Saudi Arabian-funded LIV Golf series. Augusta National declined to invite LIV CEO Greg Norman for the week saying it would be a distraction. The potential of an all but armed confrontation between those who bolted for LIV’s million and those who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour didn’t happen. By all reports the past champions dinner was pleasant without even so much as an unkind word between the two factions which carried over to practice rounds and play the balance of the week.
As if that weren’t enough off course drama Augusta chairman Fred Ridley indicated the Masters would side with the USGA and R&A in the controversy around the proposed “roll back” of ball performance. This in the face of surveys indicating average golfers are overwhelmingly against any change at even the elite level nor in favor of bifurcating the Rules of Golf.
The PGA Tour’s battle with LIV Golf presumably won’t be settled with golf clubs but in a court room, which is unfortunate because that will do nothing to assuage the hard feelings between the two sides. Driven by the competition from LIV the PGA Tour has increased tournament payouts with more next year and it has become clear the players opting to leave the PGAT did it for the money not to “grow the game” as was said early on.
Almost as an afterthought the pretournament chatter got around to who would win the most popular of the four majors. As is usual speculation abounded about topics such as Tiger Woods’ injured leg, Rory McIlroy’s chance for the career grand slam, not to mention could Scottie Scheffler take the title back-to-back. Commentators also spent what seemed like endless time talking about the 35-yards added to the par-5 13th which during play proved to be a minor factor. For the week the water-fronted par-5 moved from the easiest hole on the course to the fourth easiest.
Woods obviously was uncomfortable and limping noticeably however the 47-year-old made the cut on the number then withdrew without finishing the third round on Sunday morning and McIlroy did not win his career grand slam; he missed the cut. The biggest factor affecting the scoring was the weather. Play was called Friday after strong winds toppled three trees near the 17th tee box and Saturday the players contended with temperatures in the 40s and 50s and more rain. Though the second round was completed Saturday morning the third round had to be finished Sunday morning. The final day skies cleared and the thermometer at least advanced above 60 though conditions were wet and sloppy.
Jon Rahm’s elegant victory after shooting a fourth round 3-under par 69 bested LIV player Brooks Koepka the leader by two after 54 holes. Phil Mickelson, another LIVer and obviously slimmer, scorched Augusta National in the final eighteen with the best round of the day, a 65 to tie Koepka in second four strokes behind Rahm.
For the record of the 18 LIV players invited to play in the 2023 Master 12 made the 36-hole cut as did the nostalgic favorite and 1992 winner 63-year-old Fred Couples. Favorites Jordan Spieth and defending champion Scottie Scheffler never really contended finishing five and eight strokes respectively behind Rahm.
Golf fans are already anticipating the 2024 Masters.