1 of 5 | Phil Mickelson is among 16 LIV Golf competitors who will be invited this week to play in the 2023 Masters Tournament. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 20 (UPI) -- LIV golf participants who qualified for the 2023 Masters Tournament will be invited to compete, ending speculation that the criteria would be changed for the PGA Tour defectors, organizers announced Tuesday.
The 2023 Masters will run from April 6 to 9 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Rumors about potential qualification changes swirled over the past year amid a rift between players who chose to leave the PGA Tour to compete in the rival, Saudi-financed golf competition.
Players and officials from LIV Golf and the PGA Tour continue to fuel that rift through critical comments at news conferences and in ongoing legal battles. The PGA Tour defectors were suspended last season and not allowed to compete in the lucrative FedExCup playoffs.
"Regrettably, recent actions have divided men's professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it," Augusta National Golf Club and Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in a news release.
"Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.
"Therefore, as invitations are sent this week, we will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete in the 2023 Masters Tournament. As we have said in the past, we look at every aspect of the Tournament each year, and any modifications or changes to invitation criteria for future Tournaments will be announced in April."
Cameron Smith, the No. 3 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, is the top player on the LIV Golf Series circuit who qualified for the Masters. He did so by winning the 2022 British Open and the Players Championship.
No. 22 Joaquin Niemann, No. 30 Abraham Ancer, No. 40 Talor Gooch, No. 41 Dustin Johnson, No. 44 Harold Varner III, No. 46 Jason Kokrak, No. 48 Kevin Na and No. 49 Louis Oosthuizen are among the other Top 50 players who compete in LIV Golf and are on the Masters invitation list.
No. 51 Brooks Koepka, No. 65 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 70 Patrick Reed, No. 112 Sergio Garcia, No. 146 Bubba Watson, No. 163 Charl Schwartzel and No. 209 Phil Mickelson also will receive invitations to compete at Augusta.
Mickelson and DeChambeau were among 11 LIV golfers who filed a federal antitrust lawsuit agains the PGA Tour on Aug. 3, alleging that the PGA Tour colluded with golf's four major tournaments to ban LIV golfers from participation.
That lawsuit also claimed that Augusta National Golf Club representatives "threatened" to disinvite players from the Masters for joining the LIV Golf Series.
Mickelson, Ancer, Gooch, Kokrak, Hudson Swafford, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez and Carlos Ortiz have since dropped out of the antitrust lawsuit, while LIV Golf joined the legal action. The PGA Tour countersued LIV Golf in September, accusing the series of interfering with the Tour's contracts with golfers.
In August, Gooch, Swafford and fellow LIV player Matt Jones sought a temporary restraining order, asking for a federal judge to overturn their suspensions from the PGA Tour and order their participation in the FedExCup playoffs. That request was denied.
The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the PGA Tour earlier this year, probing the U.S.-based golf league for anti-competitive behavior in connection to LIV Golf.
Sources told the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNBC in October that the ongoing investigation includes contact with the United States Golf Association, the PGA of America and Masters organizers.
Organizers for the British Open and U.S. Open previously allowed LIV Golf competitors in their respective fields. The inaugural LIV Golf campaign started in June with LIV Golf London. The 2022 Masters took place April 7 to 10, while the 2022 PGA Championship occurred in May.
"We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport," Ridley said. "At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again."
Ridley said any modifications for future Masters qualification criteria will be announced in April.