‘Chances are pretty good’: Can a LIV Golf player win the Masters?

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MIAMI — LIV Golf League captains Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka were sitting on a stage at Trump National Doral on Wednesday when a moderator asked if a LIV Golf player could win a green jacket at the Masters.

“I don’t know, obviously chances are pretty good,” Koepka said. “There’s a lot of good players. I don’t know how many guys are in the field. Usually about 90, right? Usually about 90 [it’s 88 this year]. So, you know, probably got, what, 15%?”

Koepka turned to DeChambeau: “You’re better at math and numbers.”

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“Something like that — it’s 15 to 20 [percent],” DeChambeau said.

Together, DeChambeau and Koepka dissected the numbers, eliminating amateurs, first-timers and golfers who might be nervous playing in the first major championship of the season in front of tens of thousands of patrons at Augusta National Golf Club, one of the most famous courses in the world.

“I can give that whole speech again, but I’ll save everybody the five minutes,” Koepka said.

Koepka was referring to his news conference at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Before a tee was even in the ground, Koepka suggested he had to worry about beating only a handful of golfers because he was better than half the field and many others would probably be too nervous to win.

The five-time major champion captured the second of his three Wanamaker Trophies five days later.

Heading into the Masters a year ago, there were similar questions about LIV Golf players. After leaving the PGA Tour, they were playing fewer tournaments — and only 54 holes when they did. The circuit that claimed to be “Golf But Louder” seemed a lot more relaxed with its unique team names, on-course music and shotgun starts.

That doubt was put to rest at Augusta National Golf Club when Koepka and fellow LIV Golf League captain Phil Mickelson tied for second behind Jon Rahm. Former Masters champion Patrick Reed tied for fourth, putting three LIV Golf players in the top five.

Jon Rahm won last year’s Masters, while Brooks Koepka tied for second. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“I think the outside perception was definitely that these guys have gone away and they’re never going to be able to play competitively again,” Australia’s Cameron Smith said. “I guess our performance at the Masters definitely kind of turned a lot of heads.”

Now the Saudi Arabian-financed LIV Golf League has Rahm, who became the fourth golfer from Spain to win the Masters with a 4-stroke victory a year ago. He jumped to LIV Golf in December and signed a multiyear contract that is reportedly worth more than $350 million. He is captain of the Legion XIII team.

Rahm, the third-ranked golfer in the world, and Smith, the 2022 Open Championship winner, are among 13 LIV Golf players who will compete in the Masters this week. Smith withdrew after the first round of the LIV Golf tournament in Miami because of illness.

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Past Masters champions Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson will also be there, along with Tyrrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk.

“I think that was something that, you know, some people came with to try to kind of take credit away from us, [by] saying that we’re all done,” said 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia. “I think it’s been proven the other way, so I think people don’t look at it that way anymore. They realize that we can still play and play really well.”

Last year, Koepka said if he hadn’t seriously injured his right knee in a fall in March 2021, he might not have left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. He missed the cut at the Masters in 2021 and 2022 while recovering. Koepka came in hot last year, having won a LIV Golf tournament in Orlando, Florida, the week before. He captured his third PGA Championship title at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, about a month later.

Koepka said he never had doubts about his ability to compete in major championships again — even if others did.

“I mean, I already knew that,” Koepka said. “I kept telling everybody, but nobody believed me. I think it was more validation for everybody else.”

Now, the 33-year-old Koepka seems as confident as ever. He would be only the eighth golfer to win the three U.S.-based major championships; Raymond Floyd, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods also won the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

“This is kind of my time,” Koepka said this week.

Mickelson was even further off the radar when he delivered his historic performance at the 2023 Masters. The six-time major champion had fallen to 425th in the world rankings. Since winning his last tournament at the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Mickelson had missed the cut in three majors and tied for 62nd in a fourth.

Augusta National always seems to bring out Mickelson’s best, however, and it did again last year. He carded a 7-under 65 on Sunday — his best final round in the event — and the lowest round in Masters history by any golfer aged 50 or older.

Mickelson, who was 52, also became the oldest player to finish in the top five of the Masters.

He will arrive at Augusta National Golf Club this week near the 20th anniversary of his first Masters victory — the moment that broke his 0-for-46 record in major championships. In the final round in 2004, he walked to the 12th hole trailing Ernie Els by 3 strokes. Mickelson responded by making birdies on five of the final seven holes, including one on the 72nd hole when he sank an 18-foot putt that led to his iconic leap.

“I obviously love the place,” Mickelson said. “It’s a course where I feel I don’t have to be perfect. When I go through the gates and drive down Magnolia Lane, I relax a little bit because if we miss it on the right side of the hole, given the pin placement, if we miss in the correct side, we can still salvage par utilizing our short games.

“You can still be creative and recover at Augusta, which is why I think it’s so fun to watch. … The trees are high enough where you have a swing, as opposed to take an unplayable lie and wedging out.”

The odds of a LIV Golf player slipping on a green jacket in Butler Cabin on Sunday night only increased when Rahm signed. The Masters will be the first time that Rahm has competed alongside PGA Tour players since he defected. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has the best scoring average (70.5) in Masters history among more than 400 golfers who have played at least 15 rounds.

Rahm would be the fourth golfer to win back-to-back Masters titles, joining Woods (2001-02), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Nicklaus (1965-66).

“You know, there [are] quite a few major champions in LIV, and there are a few that are major champion-quality golfers,” Rahm said. “So just pure numbers, if you go with math, wouldn’t be the highest, but I’m confident that one of us can get it done this year.”

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