Masters field getting crowded, may reach 100

By Doug FergusonMarch 25, 2015, 2:32 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Matt Every needed a victory at Bay Hill to get into the Masters, and he was only being honest when he shared what he was thinking as Henrik Stenson faced a birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff.

''You're already in. Miss it. I need to get in.''

Augusta National would have had reason to root for Stenson.

It has managed to keep the field at the Masters under 100 players for nearly 50 years, a streak that is in serious jeopardy going into the final two weeks. Every was the fourth PGA Tour winner in the last six weeks to qualify for the Masters.

That brings the total to 95 players at Augusta – including Tiger Woods, the great unknown – heading into a pivotal week.

This is the second and final cutoff for players not already eligible for the Masters to qualify through the top 50 in the world ranking. Three players in the top 50 are virtually assured of staying there – Anirban Lahiri of India (No. 35), Bernd Wiesberger of Austria (No. 41) and Branden Grace of South Africa (No. 43).

So that makes 98.

Marc Warren of Scotland (52), Harris English (53) and Alex Levy of France (54) are all playing this week either in the Texas Open or the Hassan Trophy in Morocco. The Masters also will take the winners of the Texas Open and Houston Open the following week if they're not yet eligible.

Depending on two tournaments on opposite ends of the world – and depending on Woods – the Masters could have more than 100 players for the first time since there were 103 players in 1966.

The other three majors have 156 players. The other three majors are not the Masters.

From its inception in 1934, Augusta National was meant to be exclusive in so many ways, including its invitation-only tournament each spring that has grown up to be must-see TV around the world. The club believes a limited field enhances the experience of the players.

The century mark has been challenged four of the last five years, and Augusta National is paying attention.

''It is borderline to be able to present the kind of competition that we want to,'' Masters chairman Billy Payne said in 2011 when there were 99 players. ''It is more than we normally have. We say every year in response to that question that we look and we study the qualifications, which we do. But we are really going to look at it this year, because there is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and do it in a way that's manageable.

''The 100 pushes that limit quite significantly.''

Augusta National does not rush into changes, but it does react. Two years later, Payne announced changes aimed at keeping the field below 100 players. It wisely kept winners from PGA Tour stand-alone events, including the six held during the fall start of the season. It also eliminated the category of top 30 on the money list. It reduced the top finishers at the previous Masters from top 16 to top 12, and at the U.S. Open from the top eight to the top four.

More help is on the way.

Ben Crenshaw is playing his final Masters. It won't be long – maybe next year – before Tom Watson chooses to no longer play. And this is the final year of the U.S. Amateur Public Links, so that spot effectively is awarded to the winner of the new Latin America Amateur Championship.

Changes, however, are most likely coming as golf gets deeper and the Masters field gets bigger.

It would be a mistake for the club to stop awarding invitations to PGA Tour winners. In an era of $7 million purses, there should be no greater motivation than winning. A trip to the Masters is usually the first thing a PGA Tour winner mentions (see Matt Every).

Also, the Masters should continue to rely on the world ranking to provide opportunity to players from every corner of the world. That category is loaded with international players, and there's a reason for that. PGA Tour members have plenty of other avenues to get to the Masters.

The world ranking, however, allows for one change that is overdue.

Perhaps it's time to get rid of the first cutoff for the top 50 at the end of a calendar year, and simply have one deadline at the end of the Florida swing. That still allows two weeks for players to plan a trip to Augusta. And the tournament is more likely to have the top players in form.

Dating to 2008, when the Masters returned to its policy of awarding spots to PGA Tour winners, an average of nearly three players per year were among the top 50 at the end of the year and failed to stay in the top 50 at the end of March.

There was so much turnover in 2010 that five players were added to the field after the March cutoff. Five others who had been in the top 50 at the end of 2009 still got into the Masters. Three of them missed the cut.

The last time the field topped 100 players, Jack Nicklaus won his fourth green jacket. No matter how many players tee off on Thursday, the greatest tradition still is who leaves in a green jacket.

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.