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Masters Provides a Respite to the LIV Golf–PGA Tour Divide, Which Still Has No End in Sight

More Weekly Read: Tiger's plight | Aberg shows out | Bryson's Masters turnaround

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There is still an appetite for men’s professional golf, it seems. Perhaps the Masters attracted all the fans that stayed away during the early part of 2024. Maybe it was because the stars of the game came together for the first time. It could be a combination of both.

But the malaise that has hovered over the game in recent months as the PGA Tour/LIV Golf divide sees no end suggests that the biggest tournaments in the game will still attract a big audience and that—just maybe—golf fans don’t like the fact there is division.

“Absolutely,” Rory McIlroy said. “The Masters stands alone in terms of every other golf tournament, but I think even in terms of the ratings the first two days on ESPN looked like they were up, which is a sign that when we're all back together, then golf thrives. When we're divided, it doesn't. That's just another example of why we should all try to put our heads together and get back together.”

ESPN reported its first two rounds were the highest since 2015. McIlroy, who has been saying for months he believes a deal between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia—which backs LIV Golf—is crucial, has suggested that all the bickering and money talked has turned off fans to regular events.

There is some anecdotal evidence to support his claims, along with TV ratings that have been off about 20 percent but could also be attributed to other factors such as weather or lack star power in tournaments. And that could be viewed as a watered down PGA Tour with players such as Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau playing for LIV Golf. However, CBS's final-round viewership for Sunday's final round at Augusta was down 20% from last year's final round, which fell on Easter Sunday.

Bryson DeChambeau reacts to his putt on the 15th hole during the third round of the 2024 Masters.

Having stars such as Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa together at the Masters was a welcome sight.

DeChambeau stepped up at the Masters, leading after the first round and eventually tying for sixth. Cam Smith, Tyrrell Hatton and Patrick Reed had good weeks, even if they were never in contention. And the idea that it would be good to have these players competing against the likes of McIlroy and Masters winner Scottie Scheffler more often—regardless of how we got here—seems to be gaining more traction.

The problem: a deal does not appear close.

Tiger Woods, who met with the governor of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, last month in the Bahamas via a round of golf along with the rest of the player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board, said Sunday the meeting was positive but “I don’t know if we’re closer.”

That was certainly the vibe that board members Webb Simpson and Peter Malnati elicited last month following that meeting.

And Rahm, who was LIV’s biggest signing, said at his pre-Masters news conference that his decision to make the move came with confidence that there would be some quick resolution.

“I understood that it could be, what I hoped, a step towards some kind of agreement, yes,” he said. “Or more of an agreement or expedited agreement.

“But unfortunately, it’s not up to me. But I would hope it would be something that would help expedite that process. But at the end of the day, I still did what I thought was best for myself.”

Lots of talk. Very little known action. Another month has passed since the Bahamas meeting and the golf calendar gets extremely busy now. It’s difficult to expect player directors to be focused on all these matters with important tournaments coming fast and furious.

And yet, the governance now is in place that gives the players a final say in any potential deal. While it’s impossible to think they could be involved in the nitty-gritty details, they also need to know what’s going on in order to make any kind of legitimate assessment.

A path to a resolution does not appear any clearer.