The Masters: Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick tempers any great expectations for him at Augusta

US OPEN champion Matt Fitzpatrick admits his expectations of success in the Masters need to be low after an injury-hit start to the season.

Sheffield’s Fitzpatrick began 2023 with a tie for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions but then suffered a neck injury before his next event on the PGA Tour.

The 28-year-old duly missed the cut at Pebble Beach and also made early exits from his two most recent strokeplay events before failing to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship.

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"Making a cut would be a good start probably," Fitzpatrick joked when asked what his expectations were at Augusta National.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick takes notes on the seventh hole during a practice for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta Picture: AP/Charlie RiedelPRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick takes notes on the seventh hole during a practice for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta Picture: AP/Charlie Riedel
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick takes notes on the seventh hole during a practice for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta Picture: AP/Charlie Riedel

"That is something that I've kind of done a little bit of work on myself to try and kind of say, well, it's early in the season. This is where I'm at with my game. My expectations have got to match that.

"My expectations in previous years, throughout my whole career, have been very high. I felt given the work that I put into my game, that's where I want to be.

"I definitely feel better physically. I definitely feel better mentally. I feel like my game is kind of slowly getting there, but at the same time I'm still in, effectively, a rebuild phase of getting stronger and swinging it better.

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"I think it's kind of just trying to keep my expectations at the right level to match where I'm currently at with my game."

Fitzpatrick admits the timing of the injury was hugely frustrating as he looked to build on his breakthrough major victory at Brookline last year, scene of his US Amateur win nine years earlier.

And the world number 15 also revealed how becoming a major champion meant he stopped getting such an easy ride from his sponsors.

"Obviously it changed my life massively," he said.

"There's more demand on my time now, whether it's media - this is my first press conference at the Masters apart from when I was here as an amateur - and then also sponsors. They want to use the time.

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"Before the US Open I had a lot of great sponsors and they had time with me in their contract that they could use and I never ended up doing it. They didn't kind of want to follow up on it, which at the time for me was great.

"Now I fully understand it and it's not an issue at all. It's just trying to manage my time as best that I can, and that's kind of been the biggest change."

The DP World Tour has won its legal battle against LIV players and will be able to sanction them for playing in conflicting events without permission, according to reports.

A three-strong arbitration panel heard five days of arguments from lawyers for a group of 12 LIV Golf players and those representing the DP World Tour in February in an attempt to clarify the playing status of the former on the latter.

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The case arose when players requested "conflicting event" releases from the DP World Tour in order to play the inaugural LIV Golf event in Hemel Hempstead last June.

Those requests were denied but the players competed at Centurion Club regardless and were fined £100,000 and suspended from the Scottish Open.

Initially Ian Poulter, Adrian Otaegui and Justin Harding appealed against the decision and the punishments were stayed pending a substantive appeal, allowing the players to compete in DP World Tour events throughout, with Otaegui winning the Andalucia Masters in October.

The number of appellants then grew to 16, but Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Otaegui withdrew from the case, which was heard behind closed doors by Sports Resolutions UK.

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According to a report in the Times on Tuesday, the panel has reached a verdict and found in favour of the DP World Tour, with an official announcement potentially being made during the first round of the Masters on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the DP World Tour told the PA news agency: "Out of respect for the confidentiality of the process conducted by Sport Resolutions, we will make no comment on any aspect of the arbitration until the decision is formally announced."

While the PGA Tour is involved in a separate anti-trust lawsuit with LIV Golf and a handful of its players who were suspended for playing on the Saudi-funded circuit, DP World Tour officials had stressed the "narrow parameters" of the arbitration case.

In a briefing with reporters at the Dubai Desert Classic, DP World Tour director of communications Scott Crockett said: "The hearing centres solely on our conflicting event release regulation and our ability to enforce it.

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"Every member signs up to our regulations when they pay their membership fees each year. There are precedents where they have not been granted in the past."

It remains to be seen if the likes of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter will appeal against the verdict or give up their membership of the DP World Tour.

LIV Golf declined to comment when contacted by the PA news agency.

Speaking in his press conference ahead of the Masters, Rory McIlroy said he could not comment widely until the verdict was officially announced, but added: "If that is the outcome, then that certainly changes the dynamic of everything."

Asked if he felt it was the correct decision, McIlroy said: "I'm not a lawyer. But if the arbitration panel think that's the right decision, then I have to go by what they say."