The field of 89 players in the 80th Masters Tournament is the fewest since there were also 89 players in 2002, and it has been 18 years since fewer players teed it up at Augusta National Golf Club – 88 in 1998.
There were 97 players in each of the past two Masters.
What has limited the field this year is the fact that the world’s top players are winning more frequently than in recent years.
The Masters invites the winners of full-field PGA Tour events, and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champion Vaughn Taylor and Shell Houston Open winner Jim Herman are the only winners of the 13 tournaments played in 2016 who weren’t already qualified to play in Augusta.
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And only Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who finished third in the WGC-Dell Match Play, has recently broken into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking to earn an invitation.
A total of 93 players qualified, but the field has also been limited by injuries to Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal, and a two-year South Korea military requirement for Sangmoon Bae.
This year’s competitors are from 23 countries and include 14 first‑time professional invitees and six amateurs.
Because of a desire to have every player start on the first tee, rather than double teeing off both the first and 10th tees as most tournaments do, tournament organizers would like to keep the field under 100 players, which it has been every year since 1966.
“What limits the number of participants here is the daylight hours,” Augusta National and Masters Tournament chairman Billy Payne said. “… An overall change that would guarantee a larger field I don’t think is something we could possibly pursue.”
No tree, but a marker
Jim Herman uses a different presidential coin ball marker each week that is picked out by friend Steve Whiter, a history teacher in Florida and a presidential buff who refers to the coins as the POTUS ball marker.
“I'm expecting we'll probably have President Eisenhower this week,” said Herman, referring to the former Augusta National member whose namesake tree on the 17th hole was felled by an ice storm in 2014.
The sour science
When you get Phil Mickelson and amateur Bryson DeChambeau together, you’re likely to end up with an analytical conversation. Mickelson is curious, inquisitive and well versed in many subjects, and DeChambeau was a physics major at Southern Methodist who has created a set of irons of equal length and a swing to go with them.
So when they got to talking about putting during a Tuesday practice round with Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley, Johnson didn’t want any part of the conversation, according to Mickelson.
“Bryson and I were talking about some of the science of an uphill putt and a downhill putt and the break and why it's most from this point and that point and so forth,” Mickelson said. “He was using some pretty scientific terms and Dustin kind of shook his head and said, ‘If I hang around you guys much longer, I'll never break 100.’”
Gold gains value
Representatives of Augusta National, the USGA, R&A and PGA of America converged on Augusta National this week to announce exemptions for the gold medalists at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro into the organizations’ major championships.
Golf has returned to the Olympics this year for the first time in 104 years, and the men’s gold medalist will be invited to the 2017 Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. With the blessing of the LPGA, the women’s gold medalist will receive invitations to the 2016 Evian Championship and 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, Ricoh Women’s British Open and ANA Inspiration.
“We believe our game’s visibility will be dramatically elevated by the global platform that only the Olympics offer,” said Augusta National and Masters Tournament chairman Billy Payne, who was the chief executive officer of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. “New audiences from all over the world, some for the very first time ever, will be exposed to our great sport and come to know and appreciate the amazing athletes and heroes in golf. From this greater visibility we believe will evolve greater participation in our game, and it will be a certain beneficiary.”
Several records were set Wednesday in the annual par-3 contest, as Jimmy Walker shot an 8-under 19 to win and players made nine holes in one, surpassing the previous high of five.
Walker’s winning score was one better than the record of 20 initially set by Art Wall Jr. in 1965 and matched by Gay Brewer in 1973. Walker’s three-stroke victory also matched Wall’s mark from ’65.
Making holes in one were Walker, Zach Johnson, Andy Sullivan, David Lingmerth, Smylie Kaufman, Webb Simpson, Gary Player, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. The aces by Fowler and Thomas came on consecutive swings on the fourth hole, and Player’s ace was his fourth in the lighthearted competition, giving the 80-year-old the most ever and setting a record for the oldest player to make one.