AUGUSTA, Ga. — There were 19 ways to get into this year’s Masters, ranging from past champions (who receive a lifetime exemption) to those ranked in the world’s top 50 one week before the tournament started.
Hardcore golf fans might have the list of 19 ways memorized, but Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, announced Wednesday that some of those qualifications will be tweaked, starting next year.
The biggest change is that anyone who wins a PGA Tour event will get an invitation; previously, winners of any tournament that didn’t award full FedEx Cup point allocation, such as the ones during the Fall Series, were left out.
Also, those finishing among the top 12 and ties at this year’s Masters will automatically qualify for next year’s event, which is down from the traditional low 16 and ties.
Anyone finishing among the top four and ties at the US Open, instead of the top eight, will get in, which mirrors the perk provided at the British Open and PGA Championship.
Lastly, the year-end category of the tour’s top 30 on the money list has been eliminated.
Payne said the changes were made to keep the number of Masters participants fairly steady, somewhere in the mid 90s.
“We annually examine our invitation criteria in order to maintain Bobby Jones’s desire to keep the Masters an intimate gathering of the world’s best competitors and to afford all players a reasonable expectation of completion in the reduced hours of sunlight in early spring,” Payne said.
In addition, Payne commented on other topics.
On the club’s admission of its first two female members, Darla Moore and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as members of our club, has been every bit as rewarding and enjoyable for them over the last eight months as it has been for their fellow members. It’s just awesome.”
On the club’s position regarding the proposed ban on anchoring the putter: “Given the fact that the ruling bodies have not yet declared a decision . . . I do think it would be inappropriate for us to express an opinion, other than to say that we hope and believe that they can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules.”
Jack Nicklaus still holds the record for most professional majors won, with 18. Whenever Tiger Woods starts playing well (like now), Nicklaus is asked about the pursuit. Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 US Open, but Nicklaus still likes his chances to catch him.
“I’ve said it, and I continue to say it, that I expect him to break my record,” Nicklaus said. “I think he’s just too talented, too driven, and too focused on that.
“Still, he’s got to go do it. He’s played very, very well this spring. I think if he wins here, I think that it would be a very large step toward regaining the confidence that he has not won a major in, what, 3½ years.”
Informed that it’s been almost five years, Nicklaus said, “Really? I mean, it’s been a while. He’s going to have to figure it out. But I think if he figures it out here, it will be a great boost for him. If he doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, I think it will be a lot tougher for him.”
Potter wins Par-3
Ted Potter Jr. won the annual Par-3 Contest in a playoff, making a birdie on the second hole to beat Matt Kuchar. Five players shot a 4-under-par 23: Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, and Ernie Els, in addition to Potter and Kuchar. Els and Watney couldn’t be located and had presumably left the grounds when the playoff started, and Mickelson was eliminated on the first hole when he made a par and Kuchar and Potter made birdie.
Watney’s round was highlighted by a hole-in-one on No. 9, one of two aces on the day. Ben Crenshaw had one at the seventh. Those bring the total to 77 in the history of the Wednesday event, which began in 1960. No player has ever won the Masters in the same week after winning the Par-3. Potter is making his Masters debut.
Payne also announced that, starting this year, the number of players making the 36-hole cut has been increased slightly. Since 1962, the low 44 and ties (and anyone within 10 shots of the lead) qualified for the final two rounds. The 10-shot rule remains in effect, but now the top 50 and ties will advance . . . Bubba Watson didn’t have much to say about his hole-in-one on No. 16 during his Wednesday practice round, passing along only the details: 9-iron from 160 yards . . . The tournament’s website (www.masters.com) will provide live streaming video from Amen Corner (holes 11-13) beginning at 10:45 a.m., and action from Nos. 15 and 16 starting at 11:45 a.m. The website also will focus simultaneously on three sets of two featured groups as they play the second nine, from noon-7:30 p.m. . . . Receiving awards at the Golf Writers Association of America annual dinner Wednesday were Rory McIlroy (Player of the Year), Stacy Lewis (Female Player of the Year), and Roger Chapman (Senior Player of the Year). Also, former US Golf Association executive director David Fay won the William D. Richardson Award for his contributions to golf; Laura Davies was given the Jim Murray Award for her cooperation with the media; and K.J. Choi received the Charlie Bartlett Award for his charitable work.