When the PGA TOUR shifted from the West Coast to Florida, more than just a change of time zones and the grasses on the golf courses occurred. There also was a slight change in the mentality of the world’s top golfers.
The Masters Tournament, the first of the four major championships of the year, also was part of their thought process. This is not unusual. Memorial Tournament Founder and Host Jack Nicklaus said he always began the year thinking of the Masters.
That tradition continues.
When he announced he was skipping the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February and highlighted his Florida schedule, Tiger Woods the four-time Masters champion and five-time winner of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance, noted that he already had his eye on the year’s first major.
The Masters Tournament is April 10-13 at Augusta National Golf Club. Adam Scott is the defending champion, defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff to become the first Australian to win the Green Jacket.
“Once we get to Florida I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta,” Woods explained. “Some guys usually start at Doral, some guys start here, but once we get to Florida, now most of the guys are getting pretty serious about their prep to Augusta.”
Phil Mickelson said the same, and then reiterated his thoughts at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral Resort. “It's not really my biggest concern right now [winning the WGC]. My concern was that I start to hit better shots and start to play better,” Lefty, who has three Masters victories, said “I'm driving the ball straighter, my iron play is getting better, and my putting is getting better. I feel the game coming around and so I don't want to get worried about the result this particular week. But it is crunch time now with Augusta right around the corner.”
Indeed, it is. And crunch time approaches for those not already in the field. But there is still a bit of time. Players who win PGA Tour events earn an automatic invitation, so the Shell Houston Open is that last gasp of hope. In past years, Davis Love III and Johnson Wagner are among those who punched their ticket by winning the last event before the Masters.
Here’s a list of players who are in this year’s Masters field solely from winning a PGA TOUR event since the 2013 Masters: Derek Ernst, Sang-moon Bae, Ken Duke, Ryan Moore, Chris Kirk, Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler.
Also, any player who moves into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking the week before the Masters and who is not otherwise eligible earns a berth.
The Masters differs from the other three major championships in that it keeps its field at around 100 players, compared to 156 for the U.S. Open, the Open Championship (British Open as we Yankees call it) and the PGA Championship. It’s exclusive and tidy and played every year on one of the most famous, historic and beautiful courses in golf, so invitations are highly coveted. Plus, as Nicklaus, who won the Masters six times, always said, you can’t win the Grand Slam if you first don’t win the Masters.