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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Former Masters champion Fred Couples didn’t back down from comments he made last month about LIV Golf League players who have criticized the PGA Tour after leaving.

Speaking to reporters after a practice round ahead of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Monday, Couples said he doesn’t dislike any of the players who have defected to the LIV Golf League, which is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but he doesn’t like some of the comments they’ve made.

“I have no problem with any of them — just please do not bash a tour that I have 43 years invested in,” Couples said. “It bothers the hell out of me. They don’t bother me. They really don’t. They’re golfers. I’m a golfer. I respect them all.”

During a PGA Tour Champions breakfast last month in Newport Beach, California, Couples referred to three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson as a “nutbag” and Spain’s Sergio Garcia as a “clown.”

“If you’re giving Phil Mickelson $200 million at age 52 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you,” Couples said at the breakfast.

“On my [radio] show I’ve told everyone, ‘Sergio is one of the top 10 players I’ve ever seen hit a ball, but if he’s going to make comments about the tour that I play, I’m going to make a comment back, and if it’s offensive I apologize, but they’re on another tour,'” Couples said Monday. “Go play and have a good time.”

Mickelson and Garcia are among six past Masters champions who are now competing in the LIV Golf League; Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson are the others. They’re all expected to attend a champions dinner hosted by defending champion Scottie Scheffler on Tuesday night.

“You know, I’m not expecting anything different,” Couples said. “I’ve made comments, but they need to understand if they’ve looked at anything I’ve ever said, I call myself the same stuff I’m calling them, I just don’t think they should bash the PGA Tour or anybody, just go play golf. Tomorrow night will be a great dinner, will be a lot of fun.”

The Masters, which tees off on Thursday, is the first time many members of the LIV Golf League and PGA Tour have competed in the same tournament since the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews in July. A total of 18 LIV Golf League players were invited to play at Augusta.

“Brooks Koepka I love, Dustin Johnson absolutely love,” Couples said. “I’m not good enough to be paired with those guys. They’re going to play with those who are probably going to win this thing. But I have no problem with anyone on the LIV Tour. I really don’t.”

Couples, 63, played a practice round Monday with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Tom Kim. Woods will be making just his second start since missing the cut at St. Andrews.

“He hit it really, really well,” Couples said of Woods. “He pulled a couple drives. But last year we played [in a practice round], he never missed a shot. I’ve never seen anything like it. For him, he’s just out there just trying to walk around and play.”

Woods is still limping after suffering serious injuries to his right leg, foot and ankle in a car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021. He said surgeons nearly had to amputate his right foot.

“You know, I don’t really ask him a lot,” Couples said. “I think that’s not something when I text him or talk to him, really what our conversations are about. I think when he tells you I’m only going to play four events, and Augusta is one of them, he’s ready to go. It’s probably not going to be easy, but I think he’ll be fine.”

Last year, Woods finished 47th in the Masters, his first official start in 508 days.

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Fred Couples stands by Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia insults