Updated: October 16, 2012, 3:43 PM ET

Masters could have a major predicament

Harig By Bob Harig
ESPN.com
Archive
Judging by his euphoric celebration with family afterward, Jonas Blixt didn't seem too concerned that his victory at the Frys.Com Open came without the usual perk that goes to nearly all other PGA Tour winners -- an invitation to the Masters.

A PGA Tour rookie from Sweden via Florida State, Blixt earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption, a spot in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the joy of victory, not to mention the $900,000 in prize money. But he still has more work to do if he is to earn a Masters invite -- a fate shared by the winners of just seven official tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule.

[+] EnlargeBlixt
Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesJonas Blixt won the Frys.com Open on Sunday, but didn't get an automatic invite to the Masters per current rules. Might that change some time soon?

That is because while the Masters offers a spot to all PGA Tour winners, it does so with the caveat that the tournament offer "full points allocation for the season-ending Tour Championship."

The four official Fall Series events, as well as three opposite-field events, do not offer full FedEx Cup points. In fact, the Timberlake Shriners event in Las Vegas, the Frys.com, this week's McGladrey Classic and next month's Children's Miracle Network Classic do not offer any FedEx points.

That will change a year from now, when the Frys.com becomes the first event of the new wraparound PGA Tour schedule. The fall events, plus overseas tournaments in Malaysia and China, will become official tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, with full FedEx Cup points allotted.

But will a victory earn a Masters invitation?

That is something to be determined, and will cause for some awkwardness if Augusta National alters its invitation criteria in such a way that it denies a spot to these tournament winners.

The problem for Masters officials is the size of their field, one that they very much would like to limit. This year, there were 97 players in the starting field, very close to what Masters chairman Billy Payne has said would alter the Masters "experience.''

"It's borderline to be able to present the kind of competition we want to," Payne said prior to the 2011 Masters, when the field was at 99. "It is more than we normally have -- the most we have had in 40-something years. . . . There is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and in a way that's manageable. The 100 pushes that limit quite significantly."

Since the Masters reinstated the win-and-you're-in invitation in 2008, there have been five Masters. If the tournament had extended an invite to the Fall Series event winners, the field size would have grown to 101 in 2009 and 2011. Only three times in Masters history has the field topped 100, most recently in 1966, when 103 teed off.

So what's another couple of tee times?

The Masters understandably does not want to go to a two-tee start, but in order to accommodate every player beginning at the first hole, tee times stretched from 7:50 a.m. to 1:53 p.m. ET in 2012. With rounds well in excess of five hours, daylight becomes a concern. There isn't room for many more players.

But how do you deny tournament winners in the new season format? Last year, only one of the six tournaments that will become eligible next year had a player win who was not otherwise eligible for the Masters. This year, while Blixt is not eligible, Las Vegas winner Ryan Moore already had qualified by being one of the 30 players who made it to the Tour Championship.

Next year, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the HSBC Champions in China are added to the official schedule, but those are tournaments filled with players who already have qualified for the Masters in some way.

And yet, you still have to allow for the possibility of four or five players qualifying for the Masters.

Perhaps the Masters will decide to limit some of its other invitation criteria. For example, the tournament offers an invite to anyone who finished among the top 16 at the prior year's Masters. Maybe it changes that to just 10 players. It also gives an exemption to those who finish among the top 30 in FedEx Cup points as well as the top 30 on the money list. Maybe it rescinds the money list criteria. Or it could revoke the win-and-you're-in stipulation, which remains one of the greatest perks for a victory.

"We understand that whatever happens is not going to take place until the fall of 2013, so it would not affect the Masters until 2014," Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters' competition committee, said at this year's event. "But it is certainly something we will be considering along with a general review of the qualification criteria, which we do every year."

The PGA Tour understandably wanted to make all of its events equal, hence deciding to grant full FedEx status to the tournaments that will begin the new season. But it would be a shame if that resulted in a drastic change to the Masters qualification criteria.

Michael Campbell surfaces

Since winning the U.S. Open in 2005, Michael Campbell has missed 14 cuts in the 23 majors in which he played, with his best finish a tie for fifth at the very next one -- the Open at St. Andrews. He also tied for sixth that year at the PGA Championship, giving him a 1-T5-T6 run. His best since, however, is a tie for 36th at the 2006 Open.

That's why his third-place finish on Sunday at the Portugal Masters was hailed as a breakthrough.

Campbell, from New Zealand, has been in a years-long slump, battling injuries, lack of confidence, swing changes, you name it. It was his first top-10 finish on any tour in four years and his fourth made cut in his last seven starts.

He moved from 607th in the world to 361. Two years ago, when Campbell missed the cut at the Portugal Masters, he had dropped to 1,325 in the world.

"Just delighted,'' said Campbell, 43, who finished two strokes behind winner Shane Lowry. "If someone had said to me at the start of the week, look, Michael, you'll finish third or fourth after this week, I'd be very happy indeed. I'm happy to be up there now and just in contention. I felt very calm out there once again.

"It's surprising. I haven't been amongst it for such a long time. Felt like yesterday. It's incredible. I felt very much in control of my emotions and very much in control of my golf swing, so it's a nice feeling.''

Campbell won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005, finishing ahead of Tiger Woods by two strokes. It is one of six majors in which Woods finished runner-up and in four of them, the winner has not gone on to win again on a major tour.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?