A spot in the Masters is the most cherished invite in all of golf. It's also the smallest and most exclusive field of the major championships, usually coming in around 50 players less than the last three majors of the season. The green jackets of Augusta pride themselves on being different, traditional, and more exclusive so while there's been slight adjustments on how you can qualify, the field almost never exceeds 100 players. The U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship usually exceed 150 players and have qualifying rules set up by their larger governing bodies, not an individual golf club.
The invite is real wedding-style stuff that comes through the mail, some high-class engraved printing from Billy Payne himself.
It doesn't appear the invitations have changed much since Bobby Jones was sending them in the 1950s.
While the Masters field hasn't hit the century mark since the 1960s, we already knew back in December that the entrants list was going to be on the high side. There were 14 players added at the end of year, boosting the total to 90 with multiple spots up for grabs in the first quarter of this season. A total of 100 looked well within reach, but the pace slowed down as many players who were already in the field gobbled up some of those opportunities for qualifying this year.
The last player to get in was Matt Jones, who pulled off a ridiculous comeback Sunday at the Houston Open for his first-ever PGA Tour win and first-ever Masters invite. His 50-foot putt just to force a longshot playoff against Matt Kuchar, and then his chip-in to win the playoff were a perfect lead-in to Masters week. In the end, we finished with 97 players. Of course, the biggest story is not who will be there but who won't be, with the first WD this year coming from the biggest player of this era -- Tiger Woods. It will be shocking to not have him on the grounds for the first time in 20 years, but he'll keep cashing in that lifetime invite as a former winner for the next couple decades.
There are officially 18 listed ways a player can earn a berth in the Masters, and most of the players in the field qualify in more than one way. Here are all the ways a player earns an exemption into the biggest event of the year:
|Qualification for a Masters invite (18 methods)|
|Masters Tournament Champions (Lifetime)|
|US Open Champions (Honorary, non-competing after 5 years)|
|British Open Champions (Honorary, non-competing after 5 years)|
|PGA Champions (Honorary, non-competing after 5 years)|
|Winners of The Players Championship (Three years)|
|Current US Amateur Champion and U.S. Amateur runner-up|
|Current British Amateur Champion|
|Current Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion|
|Current US Amateur Public Links Champion|
|Current US Mid-Amateur Champion|
|The first 12 players (and ties) in the previous year's Masters|
|The first 4 players (and ties) in the previous year's US Open Championship|
|The first 4 players (and ties) in the previous year's British Open Championship|
|The first 4 players (and ties) in the previous year's PGA Championship|
|Winners of PGA Tour events (full FedExCup allotment only) from previous Masters to current Masters|
|Those qualifying for the previous year's season-ending Tour Championship|
|Top 50 in final Official World Golf Ranking for the previous calendar year|
|Top 50 in Official World Golf Ranking published during the week before the Masters|
Below is a breakdown of the 2014 field, separated by category of qualification. Keep in mind that many of these players' names could fall under several categories, but here they are broken out into the first available exemption earned (e.g. former winner, automatic invite).
Past Masters Champions
The first way the Masters distinguishes itself from most tournaments is by extending lifetime invitations to all former winners. It's how you get players like Larry Mize or Ben Crenshaw, who never really play on the PGA Tour or Champions Tour, showing up in a competitive setting. This can be good and bad. It's cool to see some of the older guys that rarely play anymore, but it can often get ugly and cause a traffic jam for the rest of the field (thinking of guys like Gay Brewer, Doug Ford, Charles Coody, bless their hearts, grinding around the hilly Augusta and almost always turning in scorecards north of 80, and sometimes 90).
The past champions, who have an invite but (with some gentle nudging from the tournament) will not tee it up this year are Tommy Aaron, Jack Burke Jr., Billy Casper, Charles Coody, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Doug Ford, Bob Goalby, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, and Fuzzy Zoeller. That's 13 former champs, with Tiger Woods, the most important player in modern golf, the only player who's a surprise absentee. Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player will, as usual, hit the ceremonial first tee shot to open play on Thursday morning but they won't play.
Here are the 19 former champions who will compete:
|Angel Cabrera (2009)|
|Fred Couples (1992)|
|Ben Crenshaw (1984, 1995)|
|Trevor Immelman (2008)|
|Zach Johnson (2007)|
|Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993)|
|Sandy Lyle (1988)|
|Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010)|
|Larry Mize (1987)|
|Mark O'Meara (1998)|
|Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999)|
|Charl Schwartzel (2011)|
|Adam Scott (2013)|
|Vijay Singh (2000)|
|Craig Stadler (1982)|
|Bubba Watson (2012)|
|Tom Watson (1977, 1981)|
|Mike Weir (2003)|
|Ian Woosnam (1991)|
Major winners from the last 5 years
While those who have won the Masters are set for life, the winners of the other three plebeian major championships earn an auto-berth for just five years after their victory. Most of the players who have won the U.S. Open, Open Championship, or PGA Championship qualify in multiple ways, but four -- Stewart Cink (2009 British), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Darren Clarke (2011 British) and Y.E. Yang (2009 PGA) -- are still taking full advantage of the benefits from their major wins in recent years.
Here's the entire group of players qualified from a title at the other majors:
|U.S. Open winners|
|British Open winners|
Winners of The Players Championship from the last 3 years
The PGA Tour aggressively markets the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass as golf's fifth major, but in the eyes of the Augusta National Golf Club, it does not yet hold the same status. However, they still distinguish it from all other PGA Tour non-major wins, given that it usually has the deepest field of the year. But they do not allow the five-year exemption like the three aforementioned majors. K.J. Choi relied on his 2012 win in Ponte Vedra as his only means of getting in the field this year. Matt Kuchar qualified in five different ways, while last year's winner at TPC Sawgrass is the guy out with a bad back.
|The Players Championship winners (last 3 years)|
The Masters is always quick to remind you that this is the home and brainchild of Bobby Jones, a man of such distinction that he wouldn't dare play golf for money and make such a game his occupation. Amateurs are still held in high regard at Augusta, and there are six separate exemptions carved out for the Ams. Of course, amateur golf is totally different than it was in the days of Jones, as these are all highly-touted prospects who will almost certainly be playing for cash in the next few years (save for the 50-year-old Mid-Am champ Mike McCoy).
To their credit, Augusta has done a good job of spearheading new amateur championships around the globe and trying to make an imprint and bring new populations into the game overseas. The Asia-Pacific Amateur started in 2009, and has resulted in players like Hideki Matsuyama (now a pro and future star) and last year's 14-year-old sensation, Tianlang Guan, getting their shot at the Masters They also helped lead the foundation of a new amateur title in Latin America that will soon add another exemption for a part of the world where the game should be growing. Here are this year's amateur invitees:
|Matthew Fitzpatrick (U.S. Amateur champion)|
|Oliver Goss (U.S. Amateur runner-up)|
|Chang-woo Lee (Asia-Pacific amateur champion)|
|Michael McCoy (U.S. Mid-Amateur champion)|
|Jordan Niebrugge (U.S. Am Public Links champion)|
|Garrick Porteous (British Amateur champion)|
Top 12 (and ties) from last year's Masters
This exemption has changed from last year, when the top 16 from the previous Masters earned an invite back for the subsequent edition. David Toms is the only person affected by the change, as he came in a tie for 13th last year -- a finish that would have earned him another invite before this year. All the others in who finished between 12 and 16 would have gotten in another way. Here's the group from the top of last year's leaderboard who could make plans last April:
|Top 12 (and ties) from 2013 Masters|
Top 4 finishers at the other 2013 majors
Again, the other three majors don't enjoy the status of the Masters. While the top 12 from last year at Augusta get in, only the top 4 at the other 2013 majors earn a berth to Augusta. Here is that group, and all would have qualified in other ways as well:
|Top 4 (and ties) from the other 2013 majors|
|Jonas Blixt (PGA)|
|Jim Furyk (PGA)|
|Billy Horschel (U.S. Open)|
|Hunter Mahan (U.S. Open)|
|Ian Poulter (British)|
|Henrik Stenson (British)|
Winners of full FedExCup points PGA Tour events since 2013 Masters
Perhaps the simplest way to get into the Masters: just win a PGA Tour event. Unfortunately for a few, those events have to award the full allotment of FedExCup points, so tournaments like the Puerto Rico Open that are played concurrent to another, more important PGA Tour event do not land their winner a spot at Augusta. Chesson Hadley, who won the PR Open in March, did not qualify another way so he got the short end this year. Gary Woodland, who won the Reno-Tahoe Open last year, would have gotten in another way. Here's the group who planned their trip to Augusta after winning a PGA Tour event in the last 12 months:
|PGA Tour winners from 2013 Masters to now|
Players who made the 2013 FedExCup finale
The TOUR Championship in late September in Atlanta features the smallest PGA Tour field of the year. Only 30 players get through to the fourth and final PGA Tour playoffs event, a group that's whittled from 125 at the start. Getting into the last 30 at East Lake in Atlanta automatically earns you an invite to Georgia's other major golf event.. Four players -- Castro, de Jonge, Points, and Woodland -- got through to Augusta only through this exemption. Here's the full group that first qualified last September:
|Players who made final FedExCup Playoffs event (Tour Championship)|
|Brendon de Jonge|
Top 50 in world rankings at end of 2013
At the end of the year, it looked like we might get a Masters field of 100 or more for the first time since the 1960s. That's due to all the guys who added their names to the list by playing their way inside the top 50 last December. A total of 14 players, not otherwise qualified, appeared inside the top 50 to grow the field to 90 with the first quarter of the 2014 season left to play. Rickie Fowler was the only American in the group.
|Top 50 in World Rankings at end of 2013|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez|
Top 50 in world rankings the week prior to the Masters
There were two players in the field at the Texas Open two weeks ago who had a last minute shot to get into the top 50, but both Chesson Hadley's and Ryan Palmer's chances were blown away in the Sunday wind in San Antonio.
Only Stephen Gallacher played his way into the top 50 since the end of 2013, beating out the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to defend his title at the Dubai Desert Classic. Gallacher has a shot to land a European team Ryder Cup spot as well but right now he'll take the berth in his first Masters as the only player to qualify via this exemption
|Top 50 in World Rankings week before 2014 Masters|
And there's your field of 97 players (here's the field separated by country if you want a quick and dirty list). The way the Masters hands out invites does not lead to the deepest field of the year, with some prominent names annually omitted. The larger fields at the Players Championship and PGA Championship are often considered the best and deepest of each season. There are several big names banged up and there could be another WD at some point before Thursday, but it's unlikely we lose more than one guy. The one we've lost is already as big a hit as you can get, but that was last week's news. Now we just need to get to Thursday and that treacly theme music.