Cameron Smith at centre of major announcement for 2023 Masters

Seen here, Aussie golfer Cam Smith looks on during a round.
Masters officials have ruled that Cam Smith and other LIV Golf players will be able to compete at Augusta National in 2023. Pic: Getty

Golf fans have taken to social media in force after Masters officials announced that Australia's Cam Smith and other LIV Golf defectors would be eligible to compete for the green jacket at next year's Augusta National major championship. Smith has been given the all-clear to play in the Masters in 2023 after Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley revealed that any golfer who has qualified for the Masters tournament based on its previous criteria will be invited to play in April.

That means at least 15 players currently competing on the LIV Golf circuit will be part of the field, including Smith who receives an invitation after winning the 2022 British Open. Smith's Open win this year earned him a five-year exemption to play in all the majors, not to mention The Open itself where he can compete until he turns 60 as a past champion.

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However, up until now - organisers of the other majors had not ruled on whether to allow the LIV players to compete, or follow the PGA Tour's lead by banning them from doing so. Ridley did make it clear when delivering the decision on behalf of the Augusta National club that they were unhappy at the schism that has developed in the sport since the arrival of LIV.

He also re-iterated that Masters qualifying criteria could change in the future. "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," Ridley said in a statement.

"Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honour the tradition of bringing together a pre-eminent 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."

The overwhelming reaction from fans to the Masters announcement was a positive one, with golf fans wanting the see the world's best players competing against each other for the most coveted prizes in the sport. Many argued that by not including the likes of Smith and the other LIV players, the Masters winner for 2023 would forever have had an asterisk next to their name.

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Smith - who is the No.3-ranked golfer in the world - will fancy his chances at Augusta after achieving four top ten finishes in the last five Masters. The 29-year-old tied for second in 2020 and third in 2022.

Just last month Smith had urged the organisers of the four majors to "stand above all the politics" surrounding the ugly battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour and let the Saudi-backed players compete for the most prestigious prizes in the sport.

"If (the majors) really want the best product and the best players playing against each other in the world, they have to let us play," Smith said last month. "There's no reason other than playing another tour that should suggest we shouldn't play. We're definitely good enough players. We should have those spots."

Pictured here, Cam Smith poses with the claret jug after winning The Open at St Andrews in 2022.
Cam Smith earned a five-year exemption into all the golfing majors after winning The Open at St Andrews in 2022. Pic: Getty

Previous Masters champions and LIV defectors who qualify for next year's Masters include Americans Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Spain's Sergio Garcia and South African Charl Schwartzel. Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are allowed to head to Augusta as winners of the US Open in the past five years.

Joaquin Niemann of Chile has qualified through being in the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings prior to leaving the PGA Tour in September. Several others will finish the year in the top 50 of the world ranking including Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen. The PGA Tour has suspended members who have competed in the Saudi-funded breakaway without permission.

with AAP

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