Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley presents Lottie Woad of England with the trophy following the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Getty Images via AFP/File)
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Updated 11 April 2024

Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour

  • In a further sign of the thaw between golf’s wrangling powerbrokers, Ridley even refused to completely rule out having direct access in the future for LIV players to qualify
  • Ridley: Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley has said the Masters won’t be afraid to use special invitations to ensure that top LIV golfers remain part of the tournament.

In a further sign of the thaw between golf’s wrangling powerbrokers, Ridley, who struck a conciliatory tone, even refused to completely rule out having direct access in the future for LIV players to qualify.

There are 13 members of Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the Masters this year, including defending champion Jon Rahm, but the vast majority qualify via being former Masters winners or winning other majors.

With the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) not awarding any points for LIV competitions, it is increasingly difficult for their players to break into the majors via spots in the top 50 in the year-end rankings.

Augusta National is on the OWGR board and Ridley said it remains “the legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are” but offered a reminder that the Masters is not an open championship.

“We’re an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary,” said Ridley who highlighted the special invitation given to LIV’s Joaquin Niemann, who won the Australian Open.

“We thought he was deserving of a special invitation,” Ridley said. “Now, historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations. But we do look at those every year and I will say that if we felt that there were a player or players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to the Masters, that we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations.”

Ridley said such an invitations would be “subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”

“Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world,” said Ridley.

“Having said that, we never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It’s an invitational. It’s limited field. It’s a small field.”

The Masters invites past champions and leading amateurs to play in the tournament as well as having a qualification structure and special invitations.

LIV withdrew an application to the OWGR after failing to reach an agreement on how their tournaments might be rated and Ridley was asked if Augusta would consider some way of LIV players qualifying through their own structure.

While casting doubt on how that would work, he did not rule it out.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they’re basically, not totally but for the most part, a closed shop.

“Those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don’t think that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance, to those players.

“I would not foreclose that we would consider that in the future.”

Ridley also addressed the question of declining PGA Tour television ratings in the USA and the question of whether that was collateral damage from the rift within the sport.

While noting that fragmentation in viewing habits impacts many sports, he said golf did appear to be suffering more than others.

“I will acknowledge that, if you look at the data this year, golf viewers are down on linear television while other sports, some other sports are up. So you can draw your own conclusions,” he said.

Ridley echoed the view of several players on both sides of the divide that there needed to be more events with the elite playing each other.

“Certainly the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful,” he said. “Whether or not there’s a direct causal effect (on ratings), I don’t know. But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often.”

Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection

Updated 12 June 2024

Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection

PINEHURST, United States: Two-time major champion Jon Rahm withdrew from the 124th US Open golf tournament on Tuesday due to a left foot infection after consulting with doctors.

The Spanish world number eight Rahm pulled out of last week’s LIV Golf Houston event on Saturday due to the injury, which he suffered on Friday.

“After consulting with numerous doctors and my team, I have decided it is best for my long-term health, to withdraw from this week’s US Open,” Rahm posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“To say I’m disappointed is a massive understatement!“

Rahm had been scheduled to start his opening round on Thursday at 1:36 p.m. off the first tee at Pinehurst alongside Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Jordan Spieth.

Instead, American alternate Jackson Suber will compete in his first US Open, taking Rahm’s spot, the US Golf Association (USGA) announced.

Just hours before pulling out, Rahm, 29, spoke to reporters wearing a flip-flop on his left foot and said, “It’s a concern. It’s doing better. But definitely still in pain,” and that he was uncertain of playing this week.

Rahm said the pain became more than he could handle last Saturday in Houston.

“Could I have dragged myself out there and posted some kind of a score? Yeah,” Rahm said. “But it was getting to a point where I wasn’t making the swings I wanted to make and I could have hurt other parts of my swing just because of the pain.”

Just figuring out the problem took time and hasn’t totally solved the issue.

“We’ve been trying to figure it out,” Rahm said. “I think that the closest term would be a lesion on the skin. It’s a little low in between my pinky toe and the next toe.

“I don’t know how or what happened, but it got infected. The pain was high. Saturday morning, I did get a shot to numb the area. It was supposed to last the whole round, and by my second hole I was in pain already.

“The infection was the worrisome part. The infection is now controlled, but there’s still swelling and there’s still pain.”

That’s why Rahm avoided a left shoe when he visited Pinehurst.

“Trying to keep the area dry and trying to get that to heal as soon as possible,” Rahm said. “But I can only do what I can do. The human body can only work so fast.”

The Spaniard has not won since he jumped from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf last December. He shared 45th at the Masters and missed the cut at last month’s PGA Championship.

$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club

Updated 10 June 2024

$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club

  • Defending champion Abraham Ancer expected to play
  • Tourney moved from Royal Greens Golf & Country Club

The $5 million PIF Saudi International will debut in December at Riyadh Golf Club after five years at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.

The tournament, backed by SoftBank Investment Advisers, takes place from Dec. 4 to 7, moving into the coveted season-ending position for both the Asian Tour and The International Series, a statement from the organizers said.

Opened in 2005, Riyadh Golf Club is the capital’s premier golf course. Its par-72 championship course is set across 6,976 meters of undulating fairways. It has played host to many of the Kingdom’s leading tournaments including the Saudi Open presented by PIF, the Aramco Team Series Riyadh and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International.

Those who are confirmed to play are defending champion Abraham Ancer, 2022 champion Harold Varner III, 2019 and 2021 winner Dustin Johnson, and 2022 Open Champion Cameron Smith.

For the first time this year, the PIF Saudi International will finish on Saturday to align with the Kingdom’s weekend as players aim for the $1 million first prize.

The tournament is the last of 10 events on the Asian Tour calendar that offer a direct pathway for players into the LIV Golf League.

The champion of the season-ending International Series Rankings will secure a spot in the 2025 LIV Golf League.

In 2023, over 30 top-ranked players were eligible to play in the innovative LIV Golf Promotions event, where an additional three players qualified for the LIV Golf League.

The same will apply for this year, as the tournament will be the last opportunity for players to qualify for the LIV Golf Promotions event and, therefore, for LIV in 2025, the statement said.

Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league

Updated 10 June 2024

Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league

HUMBLE, Texas: Carlos Ortiz won LIV Golf Houston on Sunday for his first victory on the Saudi-funded league and second big win in the Houston area.

Ortiz closed with a 5-under 67 to beat Adrian Meronk by a stroke at the Golf Club of Houston. The Mexican player won the 2020 Houston Open at Memorial Park for his lone PGA Tour title.

Part of a four-way tie for the lead entering the day, the 33-year-old Ortiz finished at 15-under 201.

Meronk shot a 68 to help Cleeks GC win the team title. The German joined LIV Golf this year.

Area resident Patrick Reed had a 68 to tie for third at 12 under with Spain’s David Puig (69). Sergio Garcia was fifth at 11 under after a 68.

On Saturday, Jon Rahm withdrew after playing just six holes because of an infected left foot, leaving his status in doubt for the US Open next week at Pinehurst No. 2.

Top-ranked Scheffler seizes three-stroke lead at Memorial

Updated 08 June 2024

Top-ranked Scheffler seizes three-stroke lead at Memorial

  • Cheffler has four triumphs and two runner-up efforts in his past seven starts
  • Defending champion Viktor Hovland of Norway fired his second 69 to share second with Canada’s Adam Hadwin

DUBLIN, Ohio: World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler grinded through brisk winds to fire a 4-under 68 and grab a three-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the PGA Memorial tournament.

The two-time Masters champion, seeking his fifth victory of the year, stood on 9-under 135 after 36 holes at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event in Muirfield Village.

“You’ve got to play it fairly conservative out here, just with how much trouble there is around the golf course. There’s a lot of hazards and you’ve got the heavy rough,” Scheffler said.

“Can be really tough to judge the wind. I’m just trying to do my best to execute. Sometimes I get the wind right and hit the right shot. Other times, things don’t work out as well.

“We’ll see how the winds are this weekend. I think it’ll only get tougher.”

Defending champion Viktor Hovland of Norway fired his second 69 to share second with Canada’s Adam Hadwin, the 18-hole leader who settled for a 72 to finish on 128.

“Some nice gusts there,” Hovland said. “And some steady winds makes it even more difficult. So did a good job of just hitting a bunch of fairways, but even then, there’s a lot of thinking and guessing going into the greens.

“It’s just hard to get it close to the hole, but I managed to do that somehow.”

South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and American Keegan Bradley shared fourth on 139 with Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg on 140.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy was on 141 with Americans Tony Finau, Akshay Bhatia and second-ranked Xander Schauffele.

Scheffler has four triumphs and two runner-up efforts in his past seven starts and appeared poised for another top-two finish in the final tuneup for next week’s US Open.

The 27-year-old American seeks his 10th career PGA Tour title.

Scheffler dropped his approach to eight feet and sank the birdie putt at the third hole to match Hadwin for the lead, then moved ahead with a birdie putt from just inside eight feet at the par-5 fifth to reach 7-under.

Scheffler made another birdie putt from just inside six feet at the ninth to reach the turn ahead by two.

At 10, Scheffler missed the green with his approach but sank a putt from just beyond 15 feet to save par. At the par-5 11th he found the left rough and a greenside bunker then missed a par putt from just inside 10 feet.

Scheffler found the left rough off the 13th tee and missed an 11 foot par putt, dropping him back into a share of the lead with Hadwin.

“That’s a bad miss there,” Scheffler said. “Unfortunate series of events but still felt like I was hitting it really well.”

Scheffler righted his round, however, at the par-5 15th, when he reached the green in two and sank an eagle putt from just inside nine feet to restore his two-stroke edge.

“It was nice to get one in close on 15 and make a putt,” Scheffler said.

At 18, Scheffler sent his tee shot into a fairway bunker, landed his approach just inside 12 feet, then curled in a birdie putt.

“Got a good break,” Scheffler said. “Ended up in the bunker instead of the rough and was able to get up there on the green and hole another nice putt.”

Hovland birdied three of the last six holes, a tap-in at the last matching him with Hadwin, who took a double bogey at 17 after finding fairway and greenside bunkers.

Schauffele, coming of his first major win at the PGA Championship last month, shot 73 but hit his most spectacular shot at 14. He soared way right of the cart path, then over the green into a bunker, but blasted in for birdie from 28 feet.

Jackson Koivun, a 19-year-old US collegian, became the first amateur since 2009 to make the Memorial cut, doing so on the number at 148 despite a 76.

“It’s awesome,” Koivun said. “Today is probably the hardest golf conditions and course I ever played.”

LIV Golf’s youngest player Caleb Surratt in three-way tie for lead

Updated 08 June 2024

LIV Golf’s youngest player Caleb Surratt in three-way tie for lead

  • Martin Kaymer’s Cleeks top team leaderboard at LIV Golf Houston
  • The trio of individual leaders are one shot ahead of Kevin Na (Iron Heads GC) and Carlos Ortiz (Torque)

HUMBLE, Texas: Caleb Surratt struggled to disregard the noise in his first few months since turning pro to join LIV Golf.

Now he’s determined to make some noise.
The 20-year-old Surratt, LIV Golf’s youngest player, started the second half of the 2024 season with a bang, shooting a bogey-free 7-under 65 Friday at LIV Golf Houston to share the first-round lead with the Cleeks GC duo of captain Martin Kaymer and Adrian Meronk.

“Obviously, I have the mindset that the job is not finished by any means,” said Surratt of Legion XIII, “but I’m really happy to be out here playing free for probably the first time this season.”

The Cleeks also made plenty of noise, shooting a cumulative score of 17 under to grab a three-shot advantage over Torque GC in the team competition.

It’s the first time the Cleeks, who remain in search of their first trophy of any kind, have led since last year’s opening round in Adelaide.

Kaymer’s team is definitely trending in the right direction. In the most recent LIV Golf event in Singapore, the Cleeks tied for second, their best-ever result. Then two weeks ago, Cleeks veteran Richard Bland won the Senior PGA Championship in his senior debut.

Now Kaymer has found his form after a lengthy recovery from wrist surgery, and his team leads for the first time in more than a year, even without Bland contributing a counting score.

First-year LIV player Kalle Samooja continued to show signs of progress with a 3-under 69 to round out the team’s scoring.

“I think what Richard did a couple of weeks ago really helped our team spirit,” Kaymer said. “We were really in a good place, but a win can make a big difference. … The way Richard is playing is inspiring.”

The trio of individual leaders are one shot ahead of Kevin Na (Iron Heads GC) and Carlos Ortiz (Torque). Seven players are two shots back, including Individual points leader Joaquin Niemann (Torque) and hometown favorite Patrick Reed (4Aces GC).

It came on a day in which 41 of the 54 players in the field broke par, with nine of those shooting bogey-free rounds, as the winds died down on a steamy afternoon at the Golf Club of Houston.

“When the wind dies around here, especially when it’s this hot, we’re going to be able to shoot a number,” said Reed.

For Surratt, the 65 is his lowest score relative to par in his 22 rounds since leaving the University of Tennessee as a 19-year-old teenager to join Jon Rahm’s expansion team.

He showed flashes in the first half of the season, especially during Legion’s two team wins. But he was still adjusting to life as a pro and spending too much time worried about things out of his control — social media chatter, expectations from outsiders, crowd sizes he had never seen before.

“That’s all stuff I title as noise,” Surratt said, who birdied six of his first 10 holes Friday. “… Once I started to let go of the things I can’t control, I’ve been a lot more free, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Team counting scores

Standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Houston:

1. CLEEKS GC -17 (Kaymer 65, Meronk 65, Samooja 69)

2. TORQUE GC -14 (Ortiz 66, Niemann 67, Muñoz 69)

T3. RIPPER GC -12 (Leishman 67, Jones 68, Herbert 69)

T3. LEGION XIII -12 (Surratt 65, Rahm 69, Hatton 70)

T3. 4ACES GC -12 (Johnson 67, Reed 67, Varner III 70)

T3. FIREBALLS GC -12 (Garcia 67, Puig 68, Chacarra 69)

7. CRUSHERS GC -11 (Casey 67, DeChambeau 69, Lahiri 69)

T8. IRON HEADS -10 (Na 66, Lee 70, Kozuma 70)

T8. MAJESTICKS GC -10 (Poulter 67, Westwood 69, Stenson 70)

10. SMASH GC -6 (McDowell 69, Koepka 70, Kokrak 71)

T11. HYFLYERS GC -5 (Steele 70, Tringale 70, Mickelson 71)

T11. STINGER GC -5 (Oosthuizen 69, Schwartzel 70, Burmester 72)

13. RANGEGOATS GC -3 (Wolff 69, Pieters 70, Uihlein 74)