Commentary

Pros playing with a Masters purpose

Updated: March 22, 2014, 1:49 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Adam Scott is here with his green jacket, the spoils of his Masters success and a constant reminder that he has a lifetime invitation to the year's first major championship.

Scott went to bed with a 3-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday, woke up with the same advantage, and then Friday took it to the first tee, as well, with nobody being able to close the gap as he embarked on his second round.

[+] EnlargeHarrington
Michael Cohen/Getty ImagesPadraig Harrington has played in every Masters since 2000. That's 14 in a row. If he can't pull out a victory on the PGA Tour between now and the Masters, he won't be driving down Magnolia Lane in early April.

Following up on his opening 62 with a 4-under 68 in Round 2 to lead by 7 shots, Scott had one eye on Arnie's Blue Blazer -- the jacket given to the winner here -- and another on Augusta National, where in three weeks he will attempt to become just the fourth player to defend his title.

Regardless of what happens here, however, Scott will make that drive down Magnolia Lane. The same can be said for a good number of players in the field who are not only hoping to win a tournament, but to get their game in shape for the year's first major championship.

And then there are those hoping to get there at all.

Among those chasing Scott at Bay Hill are J.B. Holmes, Chesson Hadley, Jason Kokrak, Fredrik Jacobson and Matt Every, all in the top 10 through 36 holes, none of whom are in the Masters field. A victory here would get them to Augusta National.

Same for Padraig Harrington, the three-time major champion who shot consecutive 70s and finds himself staring at the very real prospect of missing the Masters for the first time in 15 years.

"What I would be saying today normally is I am building up lovely for the Masters, but I'm not in the Masters," said Harrington, 42, whose five-year exemption for winning the 2008 Open Championship (as well as the PGA Championship) expired after last year's tournament.

Harrington could have played his way back into the field in numerous ways. Had he finished top 12 last year at Augusta (he missed the cut), or been among the top 30 in the final FedEx Cup standings (he was 130th), or top 20 in the European Tour's Race to Dubai (he was 68th) or top 50 in the world at the end of 2013 (he was 113th), his invitation would have arrived in Dublin sometime after the first of the year.

Now at 152nd in the world and with another deadline for the top 50 approaching on March 30, his only way in is to win on the PGA Tour.

"Most years I would go to Augusta with three or four entry qualifications," said Harrington, who has not won on either the PGA Tour or European Tour since his 2008 PGA triumph at Oakland Hills.

He has played in every major championship starting with the 2000 Masters through to last year's PGA Championship except for the 2005 Open Championship, which he missed because of his father's death.

"I don't particularly care for streaks or anything like that," he said. "I just care for the fact that I may not qualify for the Masters, deservedly on merit, given I am not top 50 in the world or whatever.

"I just know that if I am sitting at home, I am going to feel a bit of anxiety knowing that I'm not going to be there with a chance, and if you're not into the Masters you can't win."

You'll hear similar sentiments from others. Three weeks ago, Russell Henley acknowledged that he started to see the Masters commercials on TV. "And I'll be honest, it was tough to see them," he said. "I just can't imagine not playing again. I just feel like that would hurt me really bad."

Henley got in by virtue of his Honda Classic victory. Holmes, who hasn't played in the Masters since 2008, is tied with Hadley, a PGA Tour rookie who won two weeks ago at the Puerto Rico Open -- a tournament that doesn't come with a Masters invite because it was played opposite the World Golf Championship event at Doral.

Hadley didn't seem too concerned about Augusta, more in awe of his surroundings at this point. "I'm using my momentum from Puerto Rico," he said. "I played well last week. Let's just go and enjoy the weekend. There's a lot of big names here who are very accomplished in how to win. Hopefully can play well and be right there come Sunday."

Harrington would love that opportunity, but if it doesn't happen here, he's entered the next two tournaments, as well, in San Antonio and Houston, hoping to produce the victory that will get him to Augusta.

"I've got two more weeks after this week and I know that, but it's tough to win out here, let alone produce a win on cue, and that's not easy," said Harrington, who admitted he would not normally play this many tournaments ahead of the Masters, were he eligible.

And if he doesn't make it?

"I will watch every shot, as I do love watching the Masters," he said. "I would rather be playing, but I will watch every shot."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


ALSO SEE