Augusta National six years ago went away from its criteria that winning on the PGA Tour earns a trip down Magnolia Lane, preferring to put more emphasis on overall play by relying on the world ranking and money list.
Heath Slocum, Wes Short Jr., Robert Gamez, Jason Gore, Brad Faxon and Tim Petrovic failed to crack the top 50 in the world ranking or finish in the top 40 on last year's money list. But there's still time. The Masters will take the top 50 in the world and the top 10 on the current money list at the end of March.
'I'm going to hammer out a lot on the West Coast,' said Gore, who is No. 90 in the world. 'It's definitely a dream of mine to play there. I pretty much watched videotapes falling asleep, watching Augusta, for a long, long time.'
Faxon gave up a good chance to get back to the Masters by having knee surgery. His victory in Hartford put him inside the top 30 on the money list and the top 50 in the world ranking, but he didn't play the final two months of the season. He wound up 45th on the money list, and slipped to No. 67 in the world.
'I thought if I came back early and played well, I would have a chance to make points early,' Faxon said. 'That's still my goal.'
Fresh out of surgery, Brad Faxon started counting the days.
It was a difficult decision to get the torn ligaments repaired in his left knee, coming off a victory in the Buick Championship at Hartford and a good showing at home in the Deutsche Bank Championship. The recovery was supposed to be between four and six months, which would knock him out of the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua.
'I was hopeful to be here,' Faxon said, in this winners-only field for the first time in four years. 'I was counting on my fingers what four months was, and my doctor told me that would be really pushing it.'
Faxon is among three players at Kapalua recovering from surgery on their knees, although his was the most severe. He injured it two years when he took an awkward fall working with a medicine ball, tried to avoid surgery and eventually found that while he could play golf, it was painful and limited other activities.
The recovery, clearly, was ahead of schedule.
Faxon went to California a week before Christmas and felt no pain. His first round before coming out to Hawaii showed some rust, as he shot 48 on the front and 32 on the back.
'Physically, I feel like I'm in good shape on a machine,' he said of his work in the gym. 'But hitting shots, walking, waiting, lining up putts, that will be tough this week.'
Walking is what worries Bart Bryant.
A two-time winner last year, including his wire-to-wire win at the Tour Championship, Bryant went ahead with a minor procedure to clean out some loose cartilage in his left knee. The surgery was two days after the Tour Championship, plenty of time to recover for the Mercedes.
But doctors found frayed cartilage underneath the knee cap, and decided to shave that down.
'That's something that we really hadn't talked much about before the surgery,' he said. 'That put me back a little bit more than I expected. ... Walking is not bad. Just walking downhill is what really is getting me right now. It gets really sore at the end of the day. If I start feeling some kind of sharp pain in there, I might need to consider what I'm doing, but I expect to be able to play this week.'
Peter Lonard had surgery he didn't expect, and it was perhaps the most minor of the three.
The 38-year-old Aussie felt occasional pain in his left knee over the last several months until it became unbearable at the Australian Masters last month.
The next day, Dec. 12, he had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus.
'I went in at 9 a.m. and that afternoon, I hobbled out,' Lonard said. 'It's still a little uncomfortable, but it's pretty good. They said it would be six weeks to recover, three week before I could play.'
Lonard wasn't about to miss the Mercedes Championships, winning for the first time last year at the MCI Heritage. He wasn't sure how he injured his knee, and didn't even realize he needed surgery.
'Some days it hurt, some days it didn't,' he said. 'The day I went in for surgery, I said, 'We don't need to do this. It doesn't hurt.' But it's done now, so we'll start again.'
One way to look at who had the best year is to consider only the points earned for the official world golf ranking. That not only is a reflection on players' most recent success, but shows how they did against the stronger fields.
Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods tops the list at 772.44 points, well ahead of Vijay Singh (514.53 points). Retief Goosen earned 386.2 points, followed by Phil Mickelson (369.93) and Sergio Garcia (296.4).
Rounding out the top 10 were Colin Montgomerie (282.9), Ernie Els (274.23), Jim Furyk (272.13), Michael Campbell (249.88) and Adam Scott (245.42).
Among top players, the biggest turnaround belonged to Campbell and Montgomerie, each of whom improved 73 spots in the world ranking. Montgomerie ended last year at No. 81 and finished 2005 at No. 8, while the U.S. Open champion went from No. 89 to No. 16.
One of the biggest falls belonged to Todd Hamilton, who went from No. 16 last year to No. 97. His best finish was a tie for 13th in the John Deere Classic.
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