Notes: Qualifying for Augusta tough as it gets

Sergio Garcia leaps over Rae's Creek during a practice round in 2011. Garcia will make his 15th consecutive appearance at the Masters, the longest in the field without having won a title.

Sergio Garcia leaps over Rae's Creek during a practice round in 2011. Garcia will make his 15th consecutive appearance at the Masters, the longest in the field without having won a title.

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The Masters

Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club

4/10/2014 - 4/13/2014

Pos Name Thru Today Overall
1 Bubba Watson $1,620,000 600 -8
2 Jonas Blixt $792,000 270 -5
2 Jordan Spieth $792,000 270 -5
4 Miguel Angel Jimenez $432,000 0 -4
5 Rickie Fowler $342,000 115 -2
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There are a number of ways to demonstrate how elite the Masters field is, but here’s one: Consider that of what could be termed “serious” contenders this year, only 17 of them teed it up at Augusta National in 2003.

In total, 27 members of the current Masters field can say they played in 2003, though a good number of them are former champions such as Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Crenshaw, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle.

Now 10 years ago might seem a lifetime ago when one considers that the trio of amateurs that year (Ricky Barnes was low amateur; Hunter Mahan and Ryan Moore also made the cut) are grizzled veterans, but it really isn’t. It’s just that the Masters is a difficult qualifying challenge for a lengthy stretch of time.

Along those lines, it’s noteworthy that Sergio Garcia will tee it up for a 15th consecutive Masters. That’s the longest current stretch for someone who hasn’t had benefit of an exemption for being a major winner.

Adam Scott is next, as it will be his 12th straight Masters.

• • •

FROM FAVORITE TO SLEEPER: Though he has missed back-to-back cuts for the first time since August 2011, Brandt Snedeker shouldn’t be overlooked as a threat at Augusta National. True, nothing he did at the Arnold Palmer Invitational or Shell Houston Open (9 over for his four rounds) opened eyes; yet everything he had done until his ribs started bothering him made you think he would look good in a green jacket.

Snedeker in his first five tournaments of the season was a cumulative 82 under for 19 rounds, including a win, two seconds and a third. Sixteen of his 19 rounds were in the 60s, two were 70s and there was a 75 sprinkled in there.

For those keeping score at home, let’s just say that he was playing brilliantly.

OK, there’s been a little bit of rust after the five-week layoff, and Snedeker is grinding away this week to get things ready for Augusta. But there is no underestimating the 32-year-old’s passion for the tournament.

“I would trade all my (four) tour wins for one green jacket. That’s the place where I want to win more than anything else,” Snedeker said. “I’ve dreamed about winning (at Augusta) since I was a kid.”

Snedeker was encouraged by his ball-striking at the Shell Houston Open, so that’s a good thing. Even if he didn’t putt it well, that’s a part of his game he is always confident about, so there’s not a ton of concern.

There is, however, massive respect for what the tournament stands for.

“It’s more than a golf tournament; it’s an experience. The Kentucky Derby is more than a race. The Super Bowl is more than a football game. (The Masters) is a social experience. The Masters encapsulates spring for everybody. I think everybody grew up watching it; I don’t care if you’re a golf fan or not. It draws in the non-golf fans for a week.”

Snedeker has shown he has what it takes to win at Augusta. He was T-3 in his pro debut in 2008 and has been T-15 and T-19, respectively, in the past two seasons.

While he worked on his game with colleagues and friends in Sea Island, Ga., Snedeker said he wouldn’t be taking part in money games. Why? “Playing for money never got me (fired up). I hate losing, anyway.”

Just the competition was enough.

“It doesn’t take much to get me fired up,” he said.

• • •

THIS ’N THAT: We can almost smell the azaleas, taste the pimento cheese and hear the crescendo of roars. But in preparation of Masters week, an outward nine of thoughts, observations and considerations:

• Tiger Woods donates a golf glove to the World Golf Hall of Fame? Wow! Who got hit in the head with one of his errant drives, the curator?

• Shut down the Internet, ignore Facebook and give Twitter the day off. Instead, pick up a copy of Herbert Warren Wind’s “Following Through” and treat yourself to the opening story, “The Call of the Masters.”

• Curious Masters minutia, Part I: In the last three Masters, Adam Scott has played the first round in a cumulative level par, the last three rounds in a cumulative 17 under.

• Curious Masters minutia, Part II: Though he has broken 70 just five times in 28 rounds, Justin Rose has made the cut in each of his seven visits.

• If they ever put house lots on the 18th hole at Redstone Golf Club, don’t look for Ben Crane to buy. The last four years there, he has played the hole 16 times to the tune of 10 over: eight bogeys, a double and seven pars.

• Double bogey to any reporter who ever asks Woods why a course “fits his eye.” Come on, that was a cliche in 2001.

• Among the many aspects of the Masters that warrant “best” label, there are the marshals. Uncanny how knowledgeable, helpful and professional they are.

• Funny, Augusta is on the horizon, but all I can see is Graeme McDowell holding more U.S. Open hardware at Merion.

• Henrik Stenson is No. 1 in driving accuracy. He’s No. 1 in greens in regulation. He’s also No. 1 in “scrambling.” Which seems perplexing. If you’re hitting it straight so often, when do you have need to scramble?

• • •

NO HOMECOMING: Only one player sitting within the top 10 on the money list and in FedEx Cup points does not have a spot in the Masters field.

Charles Howell III.

The fact that he’s one guy who can call the Masters a hometown tournament makes his absence all the more notable, but give him credit for the classy way in which he handled the disappointment.

“I gave myself a chance. It was a good effort, but unfortunately, good efforts don’t get that invitation to Augusta,” Howell said after closing with a 66 to finish T-10 at the Shell Houston Open. It enabled him to move from 57th to 54th in the world rankings, but Howell needed to be 50th or better to earn a last-minute spot.

Instead, he’ll miss the Masters for the fourth time in five years, after having played in it seven consecutive Aprils.

Still, Howell has played beautifully this year and is upbeat. There’ve been four top-10s, and he’s only missed one cut in 10 starts, reasons why he’s currently eighth in FEC points and ninth in money.

“I’m not going to go down the road of disappointment. I would love to be in the golf tournament; so would 300 million other golfers. I’m going to watch the tournament on TV. It’s just horrible to watch on TV, to be honest.”

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