Golf remains at war a week before the Masters

The ongoing battle in professional golf between the historic PGA Tour and the upstart Saudi-backed LIV Golf has seen lawsuits, astronomical contracts and even animosity between the participants.

Competition in golf has always been about the honour of winning the green jacket and a place in history. Over the years, while this remains important, it has taken a back seat to the astronomical financial figures that have been and continue to be poured into the sport. Since the Saudi Public Investment Fund began enticing players with multi-million dollar contracts, golf has been inundated with conversations about money

The PGA Tour's response to the LIV challenge has been to increase prize money for its players, seek significant investment of its own and change its tournament structure to compete with Saudi money.

So much back and forth, with accusations even from the parties themselves, has led to a decline in the rankings. Some fans are starting to turn their backs. "If you look at the TV ratings on the PGA Tour this year, they're down 20 per cent," said Rory McIlroy, who played a prominent role in the tour's immediate, combative response to LIV but has recently struck a more conciliatory tone.

"That's a fifth. That's big. I'd say the numbers for LIV aren't great either in terms of people tuning in. I just think with the fighting and everything that's gone on in the last couple of years, people are just really tired of it and it's turning people away from men's professional golf and that's not good for anybody," the Northern Irishman added this week.

McIlroy plays in the second round of the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. GETTY IMAGES
McIlroy plays in the second round of the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. GETTY IMAGES

The Masters, commonly known as the Masters at Augusta, is one of the four majors on the men's golf calendar and is the most watched, taking place at Augusta National Golf Course from 11-14 April with a purse of $18,000,000. This tournament is likely to buck the downward trend in public interest, although no one can say for sure.

Last year's tournament was the first time the LIV players faced their former PGA Tour rivals at Augusta and while an informal 'truce' seemed to be in place, the strong showing of the LIV players became a prominent storyline. LIV players Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson were in contention for the title and of the 18 'rebels' who teed off, 12 made the cut and three finished in the top ten.

Much to the relief of the PGA Tour officials, Mickelson and Koepka finished in a tie for second, with the tour's own star, Spaniard Jon Rahm, slipping into the green jacket.

Jon Rahm at the LIV Golf Invitational - Miami. GETTY IMAGES
Jon Rahm at the LIV Golf Invitational - Miami. GETTY IMAGES

Rahm returns to defend his title this year, but he will do so on the opposite side. He will be one of 13 men in the LIV delegation after signing a contract worth between $300 million and $600 million last December.

Thankfully, tensions between the two camps have eased somewhat since the announcement of a framework for a merger between the tours in June and the suspension of litigation, although little progress has been made on the ground.

The LIV golfers, playing at their Miami event at Doral this week, were upbeat about golf after the split. "I think we're in a transitional state where we have competition now and that's causing a lot of disruption and change, but it's also in the end product that's going to make golf more global, where the best players travel more," said three-time Masters champion Mickelson.

"Ultimately, when it's ironed out, I think (golf) will be in a much better place...but right now we're in the disruption phase...while we're going through it, it's challenging, but we'll get there," he added.