The Masters 2024: Will LIV Golf or the PGA Tour take home the first major?

Jon Rahm celebrates with the Masters trophy (Getty Images)
Jon Rahm celebrates with the Masters trophy (Getty Images)

There was, at one point, plenty of hope that the divisive schism enveloping men’s professional golf would resolve itself by the time the game’s best players drove back down Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane.

It was in June last year, after all, that the PGA Tour announced a shock framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), bankrollers of the breakaway circuit LIV Golf and the sport’s disruptors-in-chief.

Nine months on, however, and an agreement remains elusive. Deadlines have been extended, face-to-face talks have been held, but, barring a miracle in the next few weeks, the PGA Tour and LIV will remain at odds as the first tee goes into the ground for the 2024 Masters.

The division, however frustrating for golf fans, does lend itself to an intriguing subplot ahead of golf’s first major of the year. Despite the public desire from both sets of players to play down the us-against-them narrative, officials on both tours will surely be desperate to see one of their players win while crucial negotiations continue to roll on in the background.

Ahead of the golf’s first major, The Independent takes an early look at the top contenders to take home the green jacket from both rival tours.

Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm, who bested LIV’s Brooks Koepka with a sublime Sunday performance to claim his second major this time last year, will now return not only as the defending champion but the American’s colleague following his eye-watering £450m switch to the Saudi-backed circuit in December last year.

The Spaniard has already spoken about the disappointment of not being able to defend three of the PGA Tour titles he won in 2023 and, therefore, will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to remind everyone of his talents and become just the fourth back-to-back winner at Augusta.

Despite failing to win any of his first four LIV events in 2024, the 29-year-old has not yet finished outside the top eight and still remains as complete a golfer as he ever was. There will, undoubtedly, be extra pressure and noise surrounding his appearance this year but that feels like the exact environment in which Rahm could thrive.

Scottie Scheffler

For a man of Scottie Scheffler’s talents, it felt improbable at the start of March that the world’s number-one golfer was about to go a whole year without a win. In the space of a fortnight, however, the American put paid to that notion, winning back-to-back events, including becoming the first man ever to defend the Players Championship.

Despite his well-documented woes with the putter, Scheffler only needed a marginal upturn in form on the greens to allow his ball-striking mastery to win him the titles his consistency deserves.

Scottie Scheffler won the 2022 Masters (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Scottie Scheffler won the 2022 Masters (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The 27-year-old batted off questions comparing him with Tiger Woods after his win at TPC Sawgrass but his form – if a 12-month span of sustained excellence can be labelled as such – is making those analogies all the more difficult to ignore.

Scheffler claimed his first and only major to date at the Masters in 2022 and only once finished outside the top ten at a major last year. Rahm may well be the defending champion for the week, but Scheffler is undoubtedly the man to beat.

Brooks Koepka

Following a tough spell with injuries in 2022, Brooks Koepka looked ready to re-announce himself on the major stage at this tournament last year before falling short after Rahm’s superb Sunday showing.

The American, though, didn’t have to wait long to break his near four-year winless major run, tasting victory at the following month’s PGA Championship at Bay Hill with a commanding two-shot victory.

Where Scheffler revels in his unnerving consistency, Koepka’s day-to-day record is more hot and cold. He has three wins since his move to LIV but has finished inside the top ten just once in their first four events.

Brooks Koepka captured his fifth Major at last year’s PGA Championship (Getty Images)
Brooks Koepka captured his fifth Major at last year’s PGA Championship (Getty Images)

But the 33-year-old is the man for the big occasion and there is no greater stage than Augusta. With two second-place finishes at Augusta in his last five starts and quite possibly the greatest major championship player of his generation, he is not someone to be overlooked.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has searched everywhere for the winning formula to end his near decade-long major drought but has, thus far, been unsuccessful. At the US Open last year, the time looked right only for the Northern Irishman to be denied by a coming-of-age display from Wyndham Clark.

The 34-year-old crashed and burned at Augusta last year – floundering to a missed cut after two poor days – but that performance is the only time he has finished outside the top eight in the last eight major championships.

Rory McIlroy last won a major championship in 2014 (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy last won a major championship in 2014 (Getty Images)

The Masters is the only major left for the Northern Irishman’s career grand slam and while early-season results on the PGA Tour have not been encouraging, he heads to Augusta with his game the only focus having recused himself from the Tour’s policy board late last year. It could prove a vital weight off his shoulders at a place that has tormented him more than most in years gone by.

Wyndham Clark

The aforementioned Clark was a 120/1 outsider when he captured US Open glory at Los Angeles Country Club last June but his odds of doubling his major tally at the Masters will be substantially shorter.

Clark won for the first time on the PGA Tour only one month prior to tasting major success last year but, since then, the American’s displays have ensured he won’t be regarded as a flash-in-the-pan major champion.

Wyndham Clark won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier in the year (Getty Images)
Wyndham Clark won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier in the year (Getty Images)

Capturing his second victory on tour at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February this year, the 30-year-old finished runner-up to Scheffler in back-to-back weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship. This April will be Clark’s first trip around Augusta in competition but there is no suggestion so far in his flourishing career that such a prospect should faze him.

Joaquin Niemann

Joaquin Niemann was the only golfer keen to lean into the LIV-PGA Tour rivalry before last year’s Masters, suggesting he had a fire under his belly to outperform his PGA Tour rivals “knowing that they hate us”.

An eventual T16 finish didn’t give him much reason to gloat but the Chilean returns to Georgia in the best form of his life, having enjoyed a productive winter on the DP World Tour followed by two wins in LIV’s first four events.

Such displays earned the 25-year-old a late invite to the Masters but, with last year’s finish at Augusta marking his first top-20 in a major, he must now take his game to another level yet again if he is to back up his invite and contend with the game’s best.

Xander Schauffele

Statistically speaking, nobody in the world has been able to hang with Scheffler over the past few months, although Xander Schauffele has made a damn good fist of it. The consistency of the American’s game has been staggering even if he may not have the wins to boast about in recent memory.

If any critique can be labelled against the 30-year-old it is that inability to get over the line in the biggest moments. He held an overnight lead at the Players but saw that slip away as putts failed to drop for him on Sunday and for all his consistency in majors, which has seen him notch up six top-five finishes, Schauffele has never quite got over the line when it truly matters.

Xander Schauffele has an impressive major record (AP)
Xander Schauffele has an impressive major record (AP)

One of his closest shaves saw him finish T2 in the 2019 Masters, playing a support act to Tiger Woods’ fairytale victory. Now playing the best golf of his career, though, the world No 5 could well get his breakout moment in the spotlight.

Cameron Smith

Somewhat of a forgotten star since his move to LIV, Cameron Smith was, at one point, golf’s hottest property having won the Players Championship and Open Championship in the same season.

A quiet character off the course, it’s easy to forget the Australian’s impressive record at Augusta, with four top-ten finishes in the last six years. Having notched up impressive performances, too, at last year’s PGA Championship and US Open, finishing T9 and fourth respectively, it’s clear that there are few courses capable of withstanding the 30-year-old’s aggressive style and flat-stick prowess.

With a T2 finish at the LIV’s most recent event in Hong Kong, Smith may well be peaking at the right time and could slide under the radar of his more outspoken and higher-profile LIV colleagues.