With an overhaul of the PGA TOUR schedule and format, the Masters revamped its qualifying this year to invite winners of PGA TOUR events that get full FedExCup points, those who qualified for the Tour Championship at the end of the FedExCup season, and those who finished in the top 30 on the PGA TOUR money list.
The Masters will be played April 10-13 and the field will not be set until the Shell Houston Open the previous week. But here's how it's shaping up after the first year of the new criteria:
Twenty-two players already have qualified by finishing in the top 30, making the Tour Championship field or winning. Camilo Villegas, who would not have qualified for the Masters under the old system, was the only player at East Lake who did not finish in the top 30 on the money list.
Nick Watney (New Orleans), Brian Bateman (Buick Open) and Jonathan Byrd (John Deere) only qualified by winning tournaments. And only one player, Steve Flesch, was added to the field in the top 30 category through the money earned during the Fall Finish.
Under the previous criteria of top 40 on the money list, 23 players would have qualified. The five players who finished inside the top 40 were Justin Leonard, Carl Pettersson, Ken Duke, Sean O'Hair and Henrik Stenson.
Stenson will qualify as top 50 in the world ranking at the end of 2007. There are two weeks left of worldwide events that get ranking points, and among those on the bubble are Anders Hansen (No. 49), Rod Pampling (No. 52) and Bradley Dredge (No. 53). If there are no changes, 11 players will be added to the Masters field by the end of the month.
Going into the 2008 season, about 85 players will have qualified. The only spots up for grabs until April will be winners from 14 tournaments and anyone who gets into the top 50 by the end of March.
So for the field to be more than 100, different players would have to win every week who aren't already eligible. And that's about as likely as Martha Burk being invited to the club for peach cobbler.
The Masters had 97 players compete last year, and no fewer than 92 players over the last five years.
TIGER CLUBS: Tiger Woods was in south Florida on Monday to promote new products from Nike, with most of the attention on the driver. But that led to a question about what additional clubs Woods takes to a tournament, particularly irons.
He brings a backup putter, wedges, fairway woods and a driver -- but no irons.
'I don't really foresee myself breaking any irons,' Woods said.
But that's what happened at the Masters last year when he tried to hit his approach on No. 11 from behind a pine tree. The shaft snapped in half when it struck a tree.
It was the second time in two years Woods had to play a stretch of holes without one of his irons. His caddie, Steve Williams, dropped his 9-iron into a pond on the seventh hole of the Ryder Cup in Ireland.
Woods said he brings different wedges depending on the grass and conditions, and he carries a few 2-irons with different lofts. He also carries a backup putter, made by Nike. But his first-string putter is a Scotty Cameron, the only club in his bag that doesn't have a swoosh.
Don't expect that to change. Woods has won 12 majors with that putter.
HOWELL'S EQUIPMENT: Charles Howell III signed an endorsement deal with Callaway when he turned pro in 2000, but don't look for that brand when he shows up at Kapalua next month for the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Callaway officials said Howell has asked out of his contract, and he was granted his release.
'Sometimes you wonder what they're thinking,' said Nick Raffaele, vice president for sports marketing at Callaway. 'But we don't want any player who's not comfortable. I hope he finds what he's looking for.'
That part remains unclear. Howell's agent, Thomas Parker, declined comment until there was more news to report.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP: Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst will get another crack at the Women's World Cup.
The longtime friends finished second to Paraguay by seven shots in January. They got another chance when Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both declined to play this year, saying they wanted a long break before the start of the official season.
Creamer also is skipping the Lexus Cup, matches between Asia and players from the rest of the world. That will give her a three-month break from competition. Asked the last time she had a break that long, Creamer smiled and said, 'When I was 12,' and it wasn't clear if she was joking.
Kerr, the U.S. Women's Open champion, didn't sound like she would ever play. This is the second year in a row she turned down the offer, and while she is playing the Lexus Cup, she said the Women's World Cup 'just comes at a bad time in the schedule.' Kerr plans to spend the first two months getting in shape for the season.
DIVOTS: Scott Verplank had to withdraw from the Merrill Lynch Shootout because of minor surgery on his thumb, which has been bothering him all year. He also had to skip the Target World Challenge, but will recover in plenty of time for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship in Kapalua to start the 2008 season. ... Despite going wire-to-wire at Q-school, Frank Lickliter declined interview requests every day until it was over. 'Hogan didn't talk to the press,' he reasoned. Then again, Ben Hogan was never at Q-school. ... The Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf will return to a team event next year for the first time since 2002. It will be a better-ball format as it was from 1978 to 2001, only now the prize money will count as official and both players will be credited with an official victory. ... American Express announced a new program in which anyone who buys lessons from participating PGA of America professionals can bring along a guest for no additional charge.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Nine players earned PGA Tour cards after making it through all three stages of Q-school.
FINAL WORD: 'She's never going to beat me, though.' -- Tiger Woods, on his 6-month-old daughter showing some early interest in golf.
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