Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson's Masters return sparks ugly question

The Aussie said there is no animosity, but there are still questions to be answered.

Greg Norman walking during an LIV Golf event and Cam Smith during The Open.
Cam Smith and other LIV Golfers will return with the rest of the playing field for The Masters next week with many questioning what the atmosphere will be like on and off the course. (Getty Images)

Cam Smith has moved to deny there is any animosity in LIV Golfers returning for The Masters in a week, which will be the talking point ahead of the Augusta showdown. The Masters is a week away and Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson and 16 other LIV Golfers will be welcomed back for the first major since they were banned from the PGA Tour.

Tension has been palpable in the media as the ongoing feud between the high-profile PGA Tour players and LIV Golf continues. The Greg Norman-run competition has managed to bring over some of the biggest names in the sport, including Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Johnson and Smith.

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The Aussie was the highest ranked player to have joined LIV Golf having just reached World No.2 after The Open triumph. However, the PGA put a stop to LIV Golf players competing in their events, which has seen Norman enter into a bitter war-of-words with a number of top stars.

This will effectively mean players will slide down the rankings and will not be able to qualify for majors. However, a number of golfers have an exemption having won previous tournaments.

Having won The Open Championship and The Players Championship, Smith will qualify for the three American majors for the next five years. He also can play the Open Championship until he is 60, unless rules change.

And last week, Smith claimed that he hadn't been met with any grudges from the players during his time in LIV Golfers. "No one has told me to piss off or not talk to them ever again," Smith told The Howie Games podcast.

But while the reaction is one thing, questions are being asked on how the elite LIV golfers will compete with many of them not facing the same competition on the consistent basis. CBS Sport and golf reporter Kyle Porter questioned the form of players such Johnson heading into Augusta.

Cam Smith smiles after winning The Open.
Cam Smith (pictured) will be able to play all four majors for at least another five years. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images) (Keyur Khamar via Getty Images)

"One thing I've been thinking about as it relates to the Masters is how sharp players like Dustin Johnson are going to be at the biggest event of the year," he wrote. "DJ has played just 22 rounds since The Open last year and has one top 10 worldwide since last Sept. Will that matter?"

However, Porter admitted Smith and Johnson have the quality to still win the tournament on any given day. "It might not. Guys like DJ and Cam Smith can seemingly fall out of bed and shoot 68s anywhere on the planet ... but it's hard to imagine the dearth of golf won't affect them in some way."

The ugly debate on whether LIV golfers have made the right call could be found out next week. No Laying Up director Kevin Van Valkenburg pointed out that if LIV golfers do well, or one wins, then it will once again heighten the tension on tour.

Regardless, the backers of LIV Golf won't be too pleased with the TV ratings in the opening few weeks of the tournament with things going from bad to worse.

LIV Golf TV ratings fall in harsh fallout

The season opener in Mexico at the end of February was the first to be broadcast under LIV's recently struck deal with American network, the CW. Given the network has not produced a great deal of live sport coverage since it was established in 2006, many considered LIV's choice of broadcaster a curious one. The season started off with a rating of just 0.2 per cent of surveyed households tuning in to the LIV season opener.

And figures have reportedly dipped even further, with reporter Van Valkenburg revealing the viewership for the Arizona-based competition on Saturday was just 0.14. This will come as a huge blow to Norman and the LIV Golf group with their aim to take over the sport appearing to be falling short in their second season.

Three weeks ago, LIV Golf's opening event was out-rated by an episode of World's Funniest Animals, which aired on the CW later the same day. At the same time, the Genesis Invitational undoubtedly would have attracted a higher audience than the LIV Mayakoba broadcast thanks to it being the venue for Tiger Woods' first pro outing since the Masters last year.

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