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Players battle for 11th-hour Masters spot

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – This is the time of year when the focus starts to turn toward Augusta National and the Masters. But watching the Masters on TV doesn’t come close to replicating the experience of being there in person, even if this year’s telecast will be in 3-D. There are several players who must play well this week at Bay Hill if they want to get a tee time at Augusta in two weeks.

The top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week will earn Masters invitations, as will the winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Shell Houston Open. Here are some players making a last-ditch effort to crack the top 50.

• • •

Justin Rose

OWGR: 59 (No change from last week)

Transitions finish: T-13

OWGR at end of ’09: 70

What he needs to do to make the Masters: A top-4 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational likely would move him into the top 50 in the OWGR.

Masters record: Rose has three top-25s in five starts, highlighted by a tie for fifth in ’07. He also has held at least a share of the first-round lead in three starts (’04, ’07, ’08).

The skinny: Rose dropped 51 spots in the World Ranking last year but is seeing improvement since he started working with instructor Sean Foley last July.

“The whole ethos of how I thought I used to have to swing, to now, is completely different,” Rose said. “I’ve got more lag in the downswing. I’m hitting it more from the inside, stuff that I used to try to do the opposite of. It’s been quite enlightening.”

Rose said the changes have him driving it straighter and farther, and make it easier for him to control his ball in the wind.

Rose has made six of seven cuts on the PGA Tour this year, and finished in the top 15 in his past two starts. He tied for third at the Honda Classic, his best finish since a runner-up showing at the ’08 Memorial. He’s made the cut in five consecutive starts at Bay Hill, including three top-30s. He tied for eighth in ’06.

Rose, who played the Tavistock Cup Monday and Tuesday, played a practice round at Bay Hill the week of the WGC-CA Championship to get accustomed to the course’s renovations.

“I’ve been around long enough,” Rose said, “and hurt myself too many times, to monitor (the rankings) too close, and to try to hard. I just have to play well.”

• • •

J.B. Holmes

OWGR: 58 (-2)

Transitions finish: T-61

OWGR at end of ’09: 127

Masters record: Holmes tied for 25th at his lone Masters appearance in ’08.

What he needs to do to make the Masters: A top-4 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational would likely move him into the top 50 in the OWGR.

The skinny: Holmes has shot up the World Ranking this year, but needs one more good finish to return to Augusta. He’s made the cut in all seven starts this year, including top-3s at Riviera and Pebble Beach.

The reason behind his improvement? Putting. Holmes is one of many Tour players to take lessons from Dave Stockton recently. Holmes saw Stockton at the beginning of the year and switched from a belly putter back to a standard-length flatstick.

It’s the first time Holmes has used a standard putter since his rookie season on Tour (’06). The long-hitting Holmes likes his chances at Augusta, now that he has an improved stroke.

“I felt like I’ve got a great chance,” Holmes said. “Last time, I hit the ball great and I didn’t make any putts. If I’d have putted as well as I am now last time, I’d probaby have won.”

He played in the Tavistock Cup on Monday and Tuesday, and will see the redesigned Bay Hill for the first time Wednesday. Holmes has made the cut in all four starts at Bay Hill, but his tie for 40th last year was his best showing. “I’m glad they moved the par-5s back to where they should be,” Holmes said. He’s referring to Nos. 4 and 16, which had played as par-4s the past three years.

• • •

Stephen Ames

OWGR: 54 (+7)

Transitions finish: T-6

OWGR at end of ’09: 57

What he needs to do to make the Masters: A top-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational would likely move him into the top 50 in the OWGR.

Masters record: Ames has played in the past five Masters, recording top 25s in each of the past four years. His best finish was a tie for 11th in ’06.

The skinny: Ames tied for the low score in the Transitions’ final round (67) to move from 21st to sixth and give himself a chance to make it into the Masters field. It was Ames’ best finish since his victory last year at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic. One problem: As a Fall Series event, Ames’ win at Disney didn’t get him into the Masters field.

Ames tied for ninth at the ’07 Arnold Palmer Invitational, but tied for 59th and missed the cut the past two years.

• • •

Vying for Masters spots (players in bold in Arnold Palmer field):

45.) Thongchai Jaidee

What he needs: Not playing; should remain in top 50 in OWGR.

47.) K.J. Choi

What he needs: Top 55 at Arnold Palmer Invitational

54.) Stephen Ames

What he needs: Top 5 at Arnold Palmer Invitational

58.) J.B. Holmes

What he needs: Top-4 finish at Arnold Palmer Invitational

59.) Justin Rose

What he needs: Top-4 finish at Arnold Palmer Invitational

60.) Louis Oosthuizen

What he needs: Victory at Andalucia Open

65.) Jeev Milkha Singh

What he needs: Not playing this week

66.) Alexander Noren

What he needs: Victory at Andalucia Open

67.) Ross McGowan

What he needs: Not playing this week

68.) Bubba Watson

What he needs: Top-2 finish at Arnold Palmer Invitational

  • Source: Official World Golf Ranking

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