Masters exemptions for some (not all) tour champs

A couple of years ago the PGA Tour made a stylistic change, promoting the word "TOUR" to all capital letters. Most media -- including this Web site -- opted to follow their own style rules rather than a marketing move. Now, the return of a Masters invitation to some winners gives added meaning to the use of the shift key in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the tour's hometown. What we have is the PGA TOUR, the PGA Tour and the PGA tour. The case change is all about FedEx Cup points.

Before the Masters, chairman Billy Payne said, "I am very, very pleased to announce the return of the automatic invitation for PGA Tour winners." Commissioner Tim Finchem had lobbied for the move with the words: "We would welcome the return of PGA Tour tournament winners." This made it seem as if every winner earned a spot in the Masters. Not so. The win needs to be in a TOUR event, not a Tour event and certainly not a tour event.

Of the 18 ways to qualify for the Masters, No. 15 says: "Winners of PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the season-ending Tour Championship." That means 37 TOUR winners go, while 11 are shut out. Four of the 11 events (those opposite the three WGC tournaments and the British Open) are tour winners who don't get full FedEx Cup points, while the seven after the Tour Championship get no points and are winners of truly lowercase events.

The guys running the stops in Mexico, Reno-Tahoe, Milwaukee and, next year, Puerto Rico, are mum on the matter. At least they have a spot during FedEx Cup qualifying. The seven little sisters are more public about the slight.

"It goes back to what we were years ago when we first started out," Robert Morgan of the Viking Classic told The Associated Press. "We were official money, but we were not an official win, which was screwy. It's going to be the same in that respect. We were told more than one time that everything would be the same. This was a surprise and a disappointment."

Payne said the Masters wants "to determine the best players in the world" without expanding the size of the field. To get TOUR winners in, Augusta cut back the previous year's money winners from 40 to 30 and eliminated the spots to the top 10 money leaders in the current year. The contradiction is the winner of a TOUR event is not always the winner of the best event that week.

Nick Watney got into the 2008 Masters by winning the Zurich Classic. But Raphael Jacquelin earned more World Ranking points at the BMW Asian Open the same week. Most years the European Tour stop in Dubai, and its tour championship, are also stronger than the PGA Tour event that week. Guess which ones get Masters invitations?

Maybe the Masters needs a play-in game like the NCAA men's basketball tournament where No. 65 and No. 64 meet to see who qualifies. How about Watney and Jacquelin playing off the week before the Masters? Or maybe the 11 non-TOUR winners and some select European Tour titleholders vying for a Masters invitation? Those would be capital ideas.

Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.