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Masters 2023: The LIV-PGA Tour duel, turning the 13th into a 90-yard par-3, a Tiger vs. Phil shootout and much more


Kevin C. Cox

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.

April 03, 2023

What storyline are you most enthused about going into Masters week? #AskAlan @AMungoven

Jeez, there are so many! Obviously a Tiger-Phil shootout on Sunday would top any list, but I’m trying to deal in reality here, so this would be my enthuse-o-meter:

  1. We get some clarity on who the best player in the world is in a showdown featuring some combination of Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Cam Smith.
  2. Rory finally wins the Masters, completing the career Grand Slam.
  3. Sunday turns into the battle at Helm’s Deep, er, Amen Corner with a LIV antihero (think Brooks or PReed) versus a PGA Tour loyalist.
  4. A likable first-time major champion breaks through. Xander Schauffele or Max Homa would do quite nicely.

If the 13th hole averages par or higher from the first two days, do they move the tees back up to last year’s for the last two rounds? @apindara

I’m afraid the scoring average might be down but in a boring way, as fewer players go for the green, taking the big number out of play. With today’s equipment, many pros don’t like to (or can’t!) draw their driver. I foresee a lot of bailouts into the pine straw. Or 3-woods off the tee, because it’s easier to shape that club, but that leaves a much longer shot in, especially if the rain comes and the course plays softer. Either way, it’s easy to imagine many more layups, essentially turning one of the world’s great par-5s into a 90-yard par-3. From that distance, to an expansive green, balls in the creek will be exceedingly rare, which means a lot of 4s and 5s but very few 6s and 7s … and precious few 3s.

What are your thoughts on Rose Zhang’s father as a caddie? Bones seemed like he wanted to rip the bag off his shoulder for the entire second nine! @Scott_Semaya

That was one of the pleasures of watching the ANWA: Bones blasting Mr. Zhang in a subtle, understated way. But I didn’t hate the second shot at 15 as much as everyone else did. Rose was going for the jugular: a birdie there and the tournament is ovah! If she knocks it close it’s the defining shot of her young career. Of course, that didn’t happen, but she still earned a gritty win. Having coached a headstrong daughter in basketball all these years, I have some empathy for the old man: Sometimes teenagers simply don’t listen! I also understand on a molecular level why Rose went with her dad as caddie instead of an Augusta National looper, as had been the original plan. If you offered my Abby the choice between John Wooden or me as an assistant coach for the Carmel High girls hoop team, she would have picked me every time, because of the comfort level and our close connection and all those years of history together. So I am sincerely glad the Zhangs got the W because otherwise the fallout would have been messy.

What holes at Augusta National are the most underappreciated in your opinion? @derrickq42

Five is a beast, with one of the toughest drives on the property and a wicked green. No one ever talks about 6 but it has a delightfully crazy putting surface, and when the pin is on the back shelf it’s a ridiculously small target that can lead to all sorts of fun chips and pitches. Fourteen has no bunkers or water, and tucked between two epic par-5s, it can feel like a letdown, but that might be the coolest green in North America and I love to watch all the geometry involved on approaches and recoveries. I love/hate 17: There’s seemingly no fairway and by Sunday afternoon the green is usually concrete, but again, the extremity makes it fun, especially after errant approach shots. Scott Hoch missed the ensuing putt so no one remembers it, but if you want to see one of the dirtiest shots in Masters history proceed to 2:29 of the telecast from the final round in 1989:

Would golf media have a coronary if on Sunday the winning golfer taunted his playing partner like Angel Reese taunted Caitlin Clark? Maybe pantomime putting on a green jacket after the winning putt drops? Which golfer (OK, other than Brooks) is most likely to do that? Also, higher finish: Cameron Young or Cameron Smith? @luke_peacock

It would be noisy, for sure, but just like the Reese-related blowback, the reaction would depend on the player. If Rory, golf’s white knight, did the taunting he would probably be celebrated for his leadership! Koepka is a solid choice for stirring the pot, but we all know Patrick Reed is the most likely candidate to go rogue, and he would be excoriated simply because he’s Patrick Reed. As for the Camerons, let’s see if the rain comes as forecast. If so, I’ll take Young. If not, Smith has to be the favorite on a firm, fast Augusta National.

Is this the last year for Gary Player as an honorary starter? Does ANGC put him out to pasture? #AskAlan @joshcoley

It’s time. The embarrassment of last year—when Player’s son turned a celebration of Lee Elder into tacky guerrilla marketing—put the Black Knight on very thin ice, but remarkably, Player just blasted Augusta National for not making it easier for him to bring his grandsons to play the course. His tone-deafness is astonishing. Player has always been a loose cannon, but at 87 now, he is even more unpredictable. There is no upside left for the Masters to continue to give him a platform. Big Jack won’t miss him either. Nicklaus could have a year or two on the first tee without Player’s yapping and then gracefully exit. Which leads us to…

Once Jack and Gary pass on, who replaces them as honorary Masters starters? Tiger, Phil and Nick Faldo? Gentle Ben is a popular choice. Has Phil forfeited that honor by joining LIV? @LabLoverDE

Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw are an appealing duo, and they could have a decade-long run. At that point Tiger and Phil would both be around 60 and they could take the mantle. By then, passions around LIV will have cooled and presumably Mickelson will have recouped some goodwill. Faldo has the résumé but not the love. If Watson or Crenshaw is unable to carry on, I think Bernhard Langer would get the nod ahead of Faldo, though he’ll probably still be winning Senior Tour events in five years and therefore not well-suited to a ceremonial role.

If anyone was to make a LIV vs. PGA comment during the Champions Dinner to try and start something, who would you bet on it being? Maybe exclude Gary Player as the first obvious choice lol. #askalan @cdntac

Bubba! Not even out of malice, necessarily. But he’s so socially awkward, I could see Watson trying a joke that backfires badly. The thing about Bubba is that when he begins a sentence he rarely knows how it will end and he just keeps talking, so anything is possible.

Which player would you most like to interview five minutes after the Champions Dinner? @toddh_478

Fred Couples or Dustin Johnson, for the same reason: They don’t care enough to B.S. reporters and will just give it to you straight.

Why hasn’t Cantlay ever contended in a major? #AskAlan @brianros1

Have you ever listened to Patrick talk? He’s such a boring, straight-line personality and it’s reflected in his golf: He can hit the same shot over and over again with amazing precision. That is a good recipe for winning everyday tour events but the more exacting setups at the major championships demand more artistry and a wider variety of shotmaking. That’s not Cantlay’s forte. The right U.S. Open setup, or even certain PGA Championships, would seem to favor him, if he can figure out the metaphysical aspect of treating the majors like any other week.

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Does the PGA Tour need to do something more innovative with the non-designated events? The Valero Texas Open made for grim TV, and it looked like it had very small galleries, which sponsors won’t be happy with. @EoinMurphyej1

It is the endless slog of 72-hole stroke-play events that made the tour vulnerable for disruption by a new competitor. In the new bifurcated tour, the non-designated events will certainly have to be more creative to generate any kind of interest. The two-man team event has been a home run for New Orleans, so clearly the players and fans are open to change. A jingoistic team event modeled on the International Crown is a no-brainer. The first tour event that incorporates “wolf hammer” into the scoring will break Golf Twitter. Any and all creative thinking is encouraged. Unfortunately, the tour’s bedrock rebuttal to LIV has been elevating 72 holes of stroke play into the be-all-end-all so I’m afraid we’re going to be stuck with more boring golf like the Texas Open.

Would a LIV podium completely invalidate the PGA Tour? @idiotinvestor7

In a word, no. Everyone is going to overreact one way or another based on how the LIV guys play, but one tournament is a very small sample size. At the end of the Open Championship in July, let’s look back and see what the LIVers have or have not done in the majors, and then we can try to ascertain if the limited schedule and small-field, no-cut ethos is hurting their chances at the major championships.

Does LIV players making a scene on 18 if one of their players wins and putting attention on LIV upset ANGC and risk their players being invited back? @JMahal23

You should know better than to take Greg Norman’s gaseous emissions at face value. There isn’t going to be a scene at 18. Maybe one or two close friends of the winner would be on hand, which is fine. Now, it’s entirely possible if a LIV dude wins a bunch of his comrades will be waiting by scoring to give him bro-hugs, but that is a normal and acceptable practice.

If a LIV player(s) is in contention on Sunday, what’s the coverage like? I know the networks have said it won’t influence their coverage…what say you? @kingchris0719

It’s the f’ing Masters—if a guy has a chance to win he will be all over the telecast. But expect the commentary to be sanitized. It will be about the player’s past performance in the majors, his biography, etc. with scant mention of LIV. And that’s fine.

Gary Player gave his major rankings — what are yours? @ZitiDoggsGolf

Oof, tough one. Let me try to puzzle this out. For venues, I would rate them: 1. Masters; 2. (Tie) U.S Open/Open; 4. PGA Championship. For historical importance: 1. U.S. Open; 2. Open; 3. Masters; 4. PGA. For modern-day buzz/prestige: 1. Masters; 2. Open; 3. U.S. Open; 4. PGA. For the feeling on the ground when you’re there: 1. Open; 2 (tie) U.S. Open/Masters; 4. PGA. Add it up and this is my ranking:

1. Open Championship/Masters (tie)

3. U.S. Open

4. PGA Championship