With the Masters approaching, Australian Cameron Smith has brushed off claims the LIV Golf circuit has not provided him with a strong enough foundation to compete at Augusta.
Smith and 17 other LIV Golf players will take part in arguably the biggest golf tournament on the calendar along with their PGA Tour counterparts.
Smith returns to the Masters as the Open champion, having finished tied for third in last year’s tournament.
His form at Augusta has been impressive with three other top 10 finishes in the past four years, including being runner-up in 2020.
However, critics believe his form this year may be impacted by the less arduous conditions in LIV Golf.
Smith played just his fourth event of the year at this week’s 54-hole LIV event in Orlando, which had no cut. It was held at the Orange County National course, which is regarded as one of the easier courses on the LIV circuit.
In the outing before that, Smith finished in a tie for 24th at the event in Tucson. He then missed a cut in Saudi Arabia and finished in a tie for fifth in the opening LIV event at Mayakoba.
“I think it is important for us to go there, really show a high standard of golf which we know we’re all capable of,” Smith said of the LIV players competing in Augusta.
“Most of us will get four cracks at it this year (in the major championships), and hopefully we get maybe a win out of it. Maybe we just show a really hearty effort.
“There’s a lot of chatter going around about ‘these guys don’t play real golf anymore.’ And I think it’s b.s. to be honest. And we just want to show people that.”
Smith, one of five Australians playing this year’s Masters a decade on from Adam Scott’s famous victory, went so far as to say the best golf he’s ever played has been around Augusta.
That’s enough to leave the Queenslander confident that he could contend again.
“I feel like I’ve played my best golf I’ve ever played around there,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good record around there.”
Most PGA Tour players have not seen the likes of LIV players Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka since the British Open. Smith won the claret jug and then joined LIV six weeks later.
“Inside the ropes, even the people who have scuffles, it’s just a working environment,” Xander Schauffele said. “It will be cool to have everyone back in the same office.”
Most LIV players have competed no more than nine times since St. Andrews in 54-hole events with 48-man fields.
Their world ranking has plummeted because LIV still doesn’t get points. Johnson was No.16 in the world when he left St. Andrews. Now he is at No.68. Koepka dropped out of the top 100 in the world (No.111) for the first time in 10 years.
“Just because the guys aren’t ranked, they’re still top-ranked players, and us pros know that,” Schauffele said.
“When some of those boys are playing well, they’re hard to beat. Some of them left when they were hot, some of them left a little cold in terms of performance. But we know how good everyone is.”
Another question leading to the 87th Masters Tournament, which starts April 6, is how well Tiger Woods can play. He remains the biggest draw, especially now because no one knows when they will see him next. Woods can hit all the shots. His problem is walking to the next one, over four days, on one of the toughest walks in golf.
Still hobbled by his February 2021 car crash that mangled his right leg, Woods managed to make the cut last year in the Masters and the PGA Championship (he withdrew after three rounds). He made the cut at Riviera and shot 67 on Saturday in his lone start in 2023. But it took a toll, and he has sat out for seven weeks to be ready for Augusta.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he got us on the edge of our seat for the first couple of days,” said two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange, now an ESPN analyst. “But can he sustain it? I think that LA just made me look forward more to the Masters, because he’s still got something in that body.”