Masters should be opened to include worthy winners

Golf’s annual rite of spring – the Masters – is right around the corner, and the tournament is very much on the minds of the game’s top players. Some of them are lucky enough to be in the elite, limited field – and those who aren’t have one week to do something about it at the lucrative Players Championship.

“When you’re on the inside of that little circle, it’s nice when you’re in the invitationals, when you’re in the majors without having to qualify,” said Brad Faxon, who will play in his 12th Masters April 8-11. “There is nothing better. When you’re outside, there is nothing worse.”

In truth, PGA Tour players have many avenues to get into the Masters. In 1999, eligibility qualifications were altered to include more players from the PGA Tour money list (top 40) and from the Official World Golf Ranking (top 50).

The trade-off was that PGA Tour winners from the previous 12 months no longer receive automatic invitations into the Masters, which was an unfortunate development.

At Golfweek the past few years, it has become an annual rite of spring to urge the powers that be at Augusta National to reinstate that category for entry into the Masters.

In 1995, Davis Love III played his way into the Masters by winning in New Orleans the previous weekend, then nearly rode off with the green jacket. A year later, Paul Stankowski went from winning his first PGA Tour event in Atlanta to making the drive down the road to Augusta a day later. It made for an exciting national story.

If Tour winners were included this April, two of the game’s most popular stars would be headed down Magnolia Lane, and deservedly so. Fifty-year-old Peter Jacobsen would be bound for Augusta for winning the 2003 Greater Hartford Open. As it is, he’s probably already played his last Masters. And John Daly would be returning to Augusta thanks to his triumph at this year’s Buick Invitational. Neither one is in the field. (Daly, No. 9 on the 2004 money list, can get there with a solid finish at The Players Championship.)

The Masters does reserve the right, at its discretion, to invite players not otherwise qualified, though those invites are reserved for international players. It seems a strange limitation to exclude players from the country in which the tournament is played.

Added to the field last week was Lian-Wei Zhang, who hails from China. He’s a fine player – the first Chinese golfer to win on the PGA European Tour – and we applaud the efforts of the Masters tournament committee to keep its invitational so broad in scope. As we often acknowledge in the pages of Golfweek, the game has become global. As evidence, consider 40 of the 91 players expected to tee it up at Augusta National are international golfers.

But at the same time, is Zhang more qualified to play than, say, Daly, who is barely outside the world top 50? Zhang has not finished higher than 17th in seven starts this season and is ranked No. 168 in the world; Daly, ranked 53rd, has won once and has two other top 10s on the world’s toughest tour.

It’s a hot-button issue on the PGA Tour. We’re talking about adding roughly five players to a small field. It seems a simple solution, certainly one the all-powerful Masters can pull off.  

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