AUGUSTA, Ga. – Greg Norman has played in the Masters 23 times. Eight top-five wins and three second-place finishes. His performance during his debut in 1981 inspired his nickname “The Great White Shark”. But nothing like Wednesday at Augusta National Golf Club.

LIV Golf CEO Norman was just like any other ticketed customer during the practice round, flitting through the crowd and walking off the tee as he watched the players prepare for Thursday’s opening round.

“When I walk around here today, I’m like, ‘Why did you do LIV?’ I had no one. ” he said in a brief interview about the course. “Hundreds of people, even security people, would stop me and say, ‘Hey, what you’re doing is amazing.’ To me, that tells you that what we have and the platform fits within the ecosystem and is good for the game of golf.

LIV’s presence at the Masters has drawn attention to the tournament and raised questions on the field. Thirteen of the 89 players in this year’s event came from the LIV circuit, a number that would be higher if LIV events were recognized by the official World Golf Ranking. Past champions such as Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson will be invited to compete directly, but several LIV golfers enjoying strong seasons, including Abraham Anser, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen and Talor Goch, have no path to Augusta National.

“There are probably a couple that have been overlooked that should be included,” Norman said. “What is that number? I’m not going to give a specific number but it’s definitely a lot of good players who have been incredible in the last six or nine months.

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley told reporters Wednesday that LIV Golf does not meet the criteria for OWGR recognition, but the Masters will extend “special invitations” to any outstanding LIV players, regardless of their world ranking.

“If we feel there are players or players who have played on the LIV Tour or any other tour who deserve a Masters invite…we would use that discretion in regards to special invitations,” he said.

One invitation has been extended for this year’s competition. Joaquin Niemann slipped from 15th in the world rankings to No. 93 but was included in the Masters field, partly because of his success outside of the LIV program, including winning the Australian Open in December.

Eighteen LIV golfers qualified for last year’s Masters, and that number drops every year, no OWGR score. Seven LIV players here have gone on to become Masters champions, and three others have won another major. Only two LIV players – Tyrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk – have been beaten at the world level.

“Our goal is to have the best golf course possible, the best players in the world,” Ridley said. “Having said that, we’ve never had all the best players in the world because of the structure of the tournament. It’s an invitational. It’s a limited field. It’s a small field. … We’re a little bit different. But like I said before, we have that flexibility and I’m not saying we’ll think about that going forward.

Norman has not been at the Masters since 2021, when he was an analyst for SiriusXM. Ridley made headlines a year ago when he revealed that he had been rejected from Norman’s invitation to the 2023 race to “focus on the competition”.

This year, Norman didn’t bother waiting for an invitation and came to the course through the main gate with LIV executives. He wore a familiar white straw hat and LIV shirt after watching LIV players like Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed play their practice rounds.

“I’m here because we have 13 players who have won 10 Masters between them,” Norman said. “So I’m just here to support them, do what I can to show them, ‘Hey, you know, the boss’s here to help you out.’ “

Fans occasionally stop Norman for photos or to shake his hand, but there’s no sign of hostility toward the man who started LIV, reinvented the golf landscape and steered many of the game’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour.

Players from both circuits have been calling for some sort of truce that would allow the world’s best players to compete against each other again and again, but industry leaders don’t expect the ban to close anytime soon. The PGA Tour continues to negotiate a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which owns LIV.

“LIV is completely independent of that, to be honest with you,” Norman said of PIF. “I’m not personally aware of any of the talks because it’s focused on delivering what we promised to the world.”

Despite detractors predicting that LIV players would struggle at last year’s Masters due to the lighter tournament schedule, LIV players took three of the top six spots on the final leaderboard, including Brooks Koepka and Mickelson. And last year’s winner, Rahm, joined LIV in December. Norman said he didn’t hear much from opponents before this year’s race.

“Other things, I try to block out white noise and stuff,” he said. “These guys are the best. So when the best meet the best, no matter who and where they play, you always see the best at the top.”