It is a scene that those in golf have been envisioning and talking about for months. On Tuesday night of Masters week in April, the tournament’s past champions will gather at Augusta National Golf Club to fete the 2022 winner, Scottie Scheffler. The Masters Club dinner is held in a small dining room with a long rectangular table. There is no seating chart, and certainly no spot to get lost in the crowd.
That makes this year’s dinner highly intriguing, considering what has changed in the golf world over the past year. The LIV Golf League was only beginning to gain traction last April, when Hideki Matsuyama hosted. Since then, harsh words have been exchanged on both sides, and Rory McIlroy and LIV’s Patrick Reed got in a dust-up in Dubai over a tossed golf tee.
With Tiger Woods serving as the ultimate Alpha male in the room for the Masters dinner, it’s been posited that the conversation could get really interesting, considering that six players with green jackets and LIV ties would figure to attend — Reed, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel.
At his press conference on Tuesday at Riviera Country Club, where he will make his first PGA Tour start since last year’s Open Championship in the Genesis Invitational he hosts, Woods said of how he might respond to LIV players at the Masters, “That’s a great question because I don’t know, because I haven’t been around them. Some of the players out here have. For instance, Rory’s in Dubai with some of those players. I don’t know, I don’t know what that reaction’s going to be.
“I know that some of our friendships have certainly taken a different path, but we’ll see when all that transpires.”
Those who will attend the dinner who are strongly on the PGA Tour’s side include Scheffler, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Fred Couples, who rebuked Mickelson last year for going to LIV and said: “I don’t think I’ll ever talk to him again.”
That sure makes it sound like it could be an awkward room, and Woods was asked how uncomfortable it might be.
“The Champions Dinner is going to be obviously something that’s talked about,” he said. “We as a whole need to honour Scottie. Scottie’s the winner, it’s his dinner. So making sure that Scottie gets honoured correctly, but also realising the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally, emotionally, there’s a lot there.”
Woods put it all in a concise package right there. There are plenty of reasons to feel resentment on both sides. LIV Golf has filed an antitrust lawsuit that is still ongoing, while the new league also is fighting to secure valuable world ranking points. Meantime, while LIV doesn’t begin its season until next week in Mexico, the PGA Tour is off to a tremendous start, with Jon Rahm winning The American Express, Max Homa taking the Farmers Open at Torrey Pines, and Scheffler getting a second straight victory in the WM Phoenix Open. And Woods is making his return in another “designated” event featuring most of the top players in the world and another $20 million purse.
“If you go back to this week at Genesis last year to where it’s at now, we all have to say it’s been very turbulent,” Woods said. “We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality, and I was alluding to trying to create the best product.
“Obviously, they’re a competitive organisation trying to create their best product they possibly can, and we’re trying to create the best product that we think the future of golf, how it should be played. How do we do that? We’re still working on that.
“We have so many of the top players aligned, and how do we support our world partners and the DP World Tour, we need to have our top players understand we need to play around the world and again create the best product possible. It’s been an ebb and flow, it really has. And it’s been difficult, there’s no lie. You’ve seen our ambassador, Rory, go through it. It’s been tough on him, but he’s been exceptional. To able to go through all that, I’ve been with him on all those conference calls and side meetings, and for him to go out there and play and win, it’s been incredible.”
As it happens — and it’s not a coincidence — Woods, McIlroy and Justin Thomas are grouped together for the first two rounds at Riviera, and let’s just say they’ll have a lot to talk about.