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Southern hospitality to be put to the test at the Masters

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Last year Scottie Scheffler came to Augusta as the hottest player on the planet and returns in top form, looking to become only the fourth player to successfully defend the iconic Green Jacket

Southern hospitality will be put to the test at Augusta National this week when golfers from the feuding LIV Golf and PGA Tour come together for the Masters amid an uneasy truce.

Tension will be in the air along with the sweet smell of magnolias but while there has been plenty of nasty sniping in the run up to the year’s first major, both sides have signalled they are keen to put their differences aside and leave the spotlight on golf.

For some that will be easier said than done.

From the moment the Saudi-backed circuit appeared on the scene last year poaching players from the PGA Tour, each side has dug in lobbing insults and lawsuits at each other.

It would seem unlikely that not even the serene Augusta National will be able to keep a lid on the hard feelings and bad blood.

While LIV golfers are banned from the PGA Tour, the Masters, like the other majors, has opened the door to those who qualify.

Sprinkled among the Masters field are 18 members of the LIV Tour, many back at Augusta as former champions which comes with a lifetime exemption and includes some of the game’s most polarizing figures like Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia.

As always, ultra-private Augusta National has had little to say about the bickering, and broadcasters have indicated they will ignore the elephant in the clubhouse, but golfers have conceded there will be no escaping the issue.

“The storylines are going to be obviously LIV versus PGA Tour and all that,” said 2018 Masters champion Reed, among the early group to jump to LIV. “But really, at the majors, top players in the world are going and playing against each other.

“It doesn’t matter what Tour they’re on. For us, at least for myself, it’s going to be business as usual.

“Would I like to have LIV be up at the top? Of course.”

If a LIV member were to walk away wearing the Green Jacket on Sunday it would be a major marketing coup for the rebel circuit which already claims the reigning British Open champion Australian Cameron Smith as its poster boy.

But there are questions over what to expect from the LIV contingent with the circuit having staged only three events so far in 2023, leaving concerns about competitive rust.

Tiger Woods faces similar questions having played just one competitive tournament this season.

But when it comes to the Masters, Woods can never be ruled out.

Woods defied the odds at the 2019 Masters when he returned from spinal fusion surgery to win a fifth Green Jacket.

He did it again last year coming back from a near fatal car crash that nearly cost him his leg, to astonish the sporting world by grinding his way through four rounds.

The 47-year-old has looked more comfortable but his surgically reconstructed leg will be put to the test at Augusta National, a layout he knows better than anyone in the field but also one of the more taxing walks on the PGA Tour.

There are no such concerns hanging over world number one and defending champion Scottie Scheffler.

Last year Scheffler came to Augusta as the hottest player on the planet and returns in top form with two wins already this season including the Players Championship, looking to become only the fourth player to successfully defend a Masters title.

No player has won the Masters in consecutive years since Tiger Woods accomplished the feat in 2001/02 and prior to that only Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) have pulled off the Augusta double.

Once again, one of the main storylines will be Rory McIlroy, who for the ninth time comes to Augusta National bidding to complete the career Grand Slam by winning golf’s four major championships.

The PGA Tour’s most vocal supporter, the Northern Irishman has done a decent job of juggling golf and duties as a leader on the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council.

But on occasion his play has suffered as it did at the Players Championship where he failed to make the cut in a tournament he was favourite to win.

Spain’s Jon Rahm, a three-time winner this year, has cooled of late, withdrawing from the Players due to illness and finishing outside the top 30 at the Arnold Palmer and WGC but on Sunday the world number three is expected to be in the hunt.

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