Willett nearing OWGR top 50, Masters berth


While many players put their clubs into hibernation weeks ago, Danny Willett is in the midst of an impressive late-season surge.

Willett was No. 84 in the world rankings just last week, but he moved up to No. 56 after capturing the European Tour's Nedbank Golf Challenge. This week the Englishman is playing in South Africa at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, where he will enter the final round in third place with a Masters invite potentially at stake.

Willett is currently projected to move to No. 48 in the OWGR after a 67 in the third round, with only one official event remaining in the calendar year after this week. The top 50 in the year-end rankings will each be exempt into the first major of 2015, which could potentially mark Willett's first trip to Augusta National.

Other players in the mix for a spot in the top 50: Francesco Molinari, who is currently No. 58 and in fourth place in South Africa, one shot behind Willett; Tommy Fleetwood, who is No. 61 and T-3 at the Thailand Golf Championship on the Asian Tour; and Anirban Lahiri, No. 71 and solo second in Thailand.

Two players who are assured of cracking the top 50 by year's end are Shane Lowry, who is currently No. 44 and will make his first Masters appearance in April, and No. 45 Mikko Ilonen, whose lone Masters start came as an amateur in 2001.

One notable name on the outside looking in is Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker, who began the year at No. 14 in the OWGR, hasn't played since the WGC-HSBC Champions last month and is currently 51st in the world, though that number will only drop after this week.

The former FedEx Cup champ is not currently exempt into the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2008. This means he will need to either win a PGA Tour event in early 2015 or move back into the OWGR top 50 by early April in order to qualify.