|Venue: Augusta National, Georgia Date: 6-9 April|
|Coverage: Live text commentary of all four rounds on BBC Sport website. Live radio commentary on Thursday and Friday from 22:00 BST, on Saturday from 21:00 and Sunday from 20:00.|
It is “important” for LIV Golf players to challenge for the Masters title this week to stamp out the notion “they don’t play real golf”, says Cam Smith.
The Australian joined the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV tour after winning The Open last July and is one of 18 players from the circuit at Augusta National.
“I’m the first to say the fields aren’t as strong,” said Smith, referring to LIV’s 48-man, 54-hole no-cut events.
“But we’ve still got a lot of guys that can play some really serious golf.”
LIV boss Greg Norman, a two-time major winner and three-time runner-up at the Masters, has said that if a LIV player wins the Green Jacket on Sunday, “the other 17 will hang around and be there to congratulate him around the 18th green”.
Smith said that he “definitely got left out of that” conversation but added: “I’d love to see one of us guys get up to the top of the leaderboard and really give it a nice shot.
“I think it’s just important for LIV guys to be up there. I think there’s a lot of chatter about these guys don’t play real golf; these guys don’t play real golf courses.
“We compete against each other hard. It’s a good feeling to have that competition, and it’s good to see Brooks [Koepka] win last week. He’s playing some really good golf again.”
Koepka, a four-time major winner has, like Smith, a best finish of joint second at the Masters. After winning the most recent LIV event in Orlando, Florida, he agreed with Norman that there would be show of unity behind the 18th green.
“If one of the LIV players does win, it’ll be definitely a huge statement for LIV,” Koepka said. “If one of the guys does, I would be shocked if all of us aren’t there.”
The LIV contingent have a great Masters pedigree with six champions in their midst. Three-time winner Phil Mickelson, two-time champion Bubba Watson as well as Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Charl Schwartzel have all secured lifetime exemptions at Augusta National.
And Smith is keen to join them. “I feel like I’m tournament ready,” said the 29-year-old who has four top-10 finishes in six appearances at the first major of the year.
He also insisted that there is no “hatred” between the LIV players and those who remained loyal to the PGA Tour, despite the ugly split that has formed in men’s professional golf over the past year. The PGA Tour has banned LIV players from competing on its circuit, however those rebels eligible to do so can compete in the annual four majors.
“It was good to see some familiar faces,” he said of his trip to the driving range on Monday. “There were lots of laughs and lots of handshakes, and it was really nice.
“I didn’t want to expect too much but at the same time, I kind of wanted that, not only for myself but just for the game of golf.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn’t need to be going on, especially in the media. I think it’s definitely wound up a little bit too much.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of hatred going on between the players. We are all happy where we are, and I’m just as happy for the guys winning out on the PGA Tour as I am for the LIV golfers as well.”
It was a thought echoed by his fellow LIV players Johnson and 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.
Johnson said: “All my buddies are still my buddies and we play and it’s still golf. So it doesn’t matter where you play.”
DeChambeau, who hugged defending Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, said the reception from players was “unbelievable.”
“The fans were awesome,” he added. “They were saying the same stuff they would say if I was on the other side.”