AUGUSTA, Ga. — Anticipation continued to build in February when Augusta National officials announced that LIV golfers who met Masters qualifications would be eligible to play in the 2023 Masters, since the division of the tours started with the first LIV tournament in June 2022.
Many PGA Tour players like Rory McIlroy who had previously criticized the Saudi-funded LIV series eased tension this week by turning the conversation to the history and tradition of the Masters.
“Look, it’s a narrative and a storyline, but the Masters and the four major championships sit above all that noise, and that’s the way it should be this week,” McIlroy said.
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley further explained on Wednesday comments he made in December expressing disappointment in players opting for the LIV series instead of the PGA Tour.
“What I was trying to point out, and I alluded to it in my comments, the platform that these players have built their careers on were based on the blood, sweat and tears of their predecessors, people like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods,” Ridley said.
“So my comment in December was really more that I was expressing some disappointment that these players were taking the platform that had been given to them — that they rightly had earned success on, by the way — and moving to another opportunity, perhaps not thinking about who might come behind them.”
Here’s how each LIV golfer performed Thursday in the 2023 Masters opening round:
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Brooks Koepka | Tied for the lead, 7-under 65
Brooks Koepka closed out strong to tie Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland for the lead with a 7-under par 65. Koepka made the turn at 4 under and birdied three of the last four holes to finish.
He became the first LIV golfer invited to the interview room during the tournament.
“Love to finish with two birdies like that. Just kind of hopefully ride that into tomorrow,” Koepka said. “You know, putting good, driving it well, just kind of build off all those things, and get myself, you know, in contention with nine to go on Sunday, that’s the whole goal.”
Cameron Smith | 2-under 70
Making his seventh Masters appearance, the 29-year-old Australian has top-10 finishes in four of his past five Masters. His first round included four birdies and two bogeys.
Patrick Reed | 1-under 71
The 2018 Masters champion enters with top-10 finishes in three of his past five starts at Augusta National. He carded two birdies in the opening eight holes but finished with three bogeys to go along with two more birdies the rest of the way.
“It was just kind of one of those frustrating days,” he said. “I hit 12 out of 14 fairways. The only ones I missed were 15, barely to the right, but I was able to get a good layup there, make birdie. A bad tee shot on the last. Besides that, I just didn’t really make anything.”
Phil Mickelson | 1-under 71
Phil Mickelson shot a Thursday 71 in the 2023 Masters opener, working around three bogeys and a double on No. 11.
“I hit a lot of good shots today and had a chance to shoot a low round. But this is the issue I’ve been dealing with is I’ll make two swings and it costs me four shots on 11 and 16,” said the three-time Masters champion. “That I get to play Augusta National in the Masters and this is an awesome day no matter what I shoot. Just trying to enjoy the day and not put so much pressure.”
Joaquin Niemann | 1-under 71
Joaquin Niemann opened with four birdies on the first nine but ran into trouble after the turn. He carded bogeys on Nos. 12, 13, 15 and 18.
“I mean, I played unbelievable golf on the front nine, and I kind of kept it going on the back,” he said. “I think the only bad shot I hit was on 13 where I just hit a bad swing there. But then I hit a good shot on 14, good putt also. Then on 15, I thought I hit an unbelievable shot. I mean, it was a really good shot and I just probably needed two more yards and it was probably a tap-in eagle and ended up making bogey.
“So I think that’s the way this course works. Yeah, I mean, it’s the way it is.”
Niemann is making his fourth Masters appearance. His tie for 35th last April is his best finish at Augusta National.
Dustin Johnson | 1-under 71
The 2020 champion birdied the par-4 18th to finish under par. Johnson has top-12 finishes in six of his past seven starts at Augusta National.
Talor Gooch | Even-par 72
Harold Varner III | Even-par 72
Abraham Ancer | Even-par 72
The 31-one-year from Mexico described his opening round as “a big fight,” in his fourth Masters appearance.
“I guess tale of two tales there from the front and the back nine,” he said. “Three bogeys in the front, three birdies in the back.
“I had to stay patient. I felt like I was hitting the ball pretty well and not really getting anything out of it. Put myself in three tough spots there for those three bogeys and couldn’t manage to save par.”
Jason Kokrak | 1-over 73
Thomas Pieters | 2-over 74
Bryson DeChambeau | 2-over 74
Sergio Garcia | 2-over 74
Said the 2017 Masters champion: “Obviously started nicely, but I don’t know, I hit some good tee shots on the front nine. I hit a couple not so great iron shots. I hit a couple really good iron shots. I don’t know. Battling mentally a little bit. I was trying everything I could to do the best I could, and unfortunately the wheels started coming off a bit on the back nine.”
Charl Schwartzel | 2-over 74
Said the 2011 Masters champion: “Not a good start. I changed putters this week and got out on the first hole and — I always say, when changing a club, especially a putter that’s got to do with feel, you feel it when you feel a bit of adrenaline, you know? And I got on the 1st, and I was like, wow, this thing’s heavy.”
Mito Pereira | 2-over 74
Louis Oosthuizen | 4-over 76
Bubba Watson | 5-over 77
The 44-year-old is one of just 17 to have won the Masters more than once (2012 and 2014 champion).
Kevin Na | Withdrew
Na withdrew after nine holes on Thursday due to an undisclosed illness. That left 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir to play solo on the back 9.
“He said earlier he wasn’t feeling well,” said Weir, who shot an even-par 72. “So I’m not sure what’s happening, but he told me earlier he wasn’t feeling well.”
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