Golf-LIV Golf contingent leave mark on Masters leaderboard

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By Frank Pingue

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Nobody from the LIV Golf contingent at this year's Masters were able to slip into the Green Jacket, but a few players from the controversial Saudi-backed circuit left an indelible mark on the leaderboard at Augusta National on Sunday.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, two of LIV's biggest names, finished sharing second place, four shots back of Spaniard Jon Rahm.

Patrick Reed, who won the Masters in 2018, was a further shot back with a share of fourth, while Joaquin Niemann was the next best from LIV Golf as he ended up tied for 16th.

This year's Masters was the first since LIV Golf launched last June, and 18 players from the lucrative circuit, whose 54-hole tournaments with no cuts have raised talk about their competitiveness, teed it up in the year's first major.

Koepka said nobody should be surprised to see that he and his LIV Golf peers posed a threat at Augusta National, which is one of the game's biggest stages.

"We're still the same people. So I mean, I know if I'm healthy, I know I can compete. I don't think any of the guys that played this event thought otherwise, either," Koepka said.

"When Phil plays good, we know he's going to compete," he added. "P-Reed, the same thing. I think that's just manufactured by the media that we can't compete anymore; that we are washed up."

Koepka was in the best position to deliver the victory for LIV Golf as he began the final round with a two-shot lead and had won all three previous majors when he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

But the wheels fells off for Koepka, whose lead disappeared after four holes, and he was never able to threaten the rest of the way as he closed with a three-over-par 75.

Mickelson began the final round 10 shots behind Koepka but fired the low score of the day, a seven-under-par 65, leaping into contention.

Although it proved too little too late for Mickelson, the six-time major said he and the others from LIV Golf were not out to prove a point to other players in the field.

"I wouldn't look at it like that," Mickelson said. "I'm very appreciative that we're here; that we are able to play in the majors. And I thought it was exciting that this tournament rose above it all to have the best players in the world here and lost all the pettiness; that was great."

Augusta National cleared the way last December for eligible players from LIV Golf to compete in the year's first major.

If not exempt, a player's standing in the world ranking is the key for them to gain access to the majors, and LIV Golf players have tumbled down the list as they await a ruling on their eligibility while competing on the Saudi-backed circuit.

Niemann was more than pleased with his Masters performance as it will afford him some ranking points.

"Hopefully they figure something out, then let all the top players be playing with the top players in the majors," Niemann said. "I think this week was important just in case. I mean, hopefully get a few points."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Augusta, Georgia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)