Breaking down the Masters amateurs
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Five years and counting.
That's how long it's been since anyone has earned the official title of "Low Amateur" at the Masters. It's the longest stretch in tournament history and one that six individuals hope to put an end to this week at Augusta National GC.
So which one of the amateurs has the best chance of joining the eventual champion at Sunday's awards ceremony? Here's a look at the contenders and their odds of making the tournament more than a two-day event.
Brad Benjamin, 23, Rockford, Ill.
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur Public Links champion
Odds of making the cut: 50-1
Skinny: Like a 16th seed in the NCAA basketball tournament, there's a bit of a just happy to be here perception surrounding the 2009 graduate of Memphis, who remained an amateur after winning the PubLinks title last July to take advantage of the Masters invite. He plays left handed but putts righty, an oddity that won't interfere with his game this week. What will is the overwhelming nature of playing in a professional tournament for the first time at the Masters.
Chang-won Han, 18, Jeju Islands, South Korea
__How he qualified:__Asian Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 40-1
__Skinny:__Officials at Augusta National helped create the Asian Amateur a year ago as a means of trying to develop golf in the Far East. In that sense Han was everything they were hoping for in an inaugural winner: a soft-spoken young man who says it's always been his dream to play at Augusta National. Like Benjamin, however, just being here will be victory enough.
Byeong-Hun An, 18, Bradenton, Fla.
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur champion
__Odds of making the cut:__35-1
__Skinny:__The high school senior who moved to the U.S. a few years ago from his native South Korea and became the youngest ever U.S. Amateur champion a year ago at Southern Hills struggled when he played at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, missing the cut. Being paired with defending champion Angel Cabrera and Jim Furyk won't make things any easier on him in the pressure department.
Nathan Smith, 31, Pittsburgh
__How he qualified:__U.S. Mid-Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 20-1
Skinny: It's the second time that Smith will be playing in the event, having competed in 2004 (78-72--MC) after winning the first of his two Mid-Am titles. Since this isn't the first time at this rodeo, Smith has an edge on the rest of his fellow amateurs. He also is coming off a standout 2009 season in which he helped the U.S. capture the Walker Cup and Pennsylvania claim the USGA State Team title. The catch? No Mid-Amateur champion has made the cut at Augusta since the winner began earning an invitation in 1989.
Ben Martin, 22, Greenwood, S.C.
__How he qualified:__U.S. Amateur runner-up
Odds of making the cut: 20-1
__Skinny:__Of all the amateur participants, Martin will be the sentimental choice among the Augusta patrons. He grew up only two hours away and has been attending the tournament since the mid-1990s. Working in his favor is the fact his game seems to be rounding into form; he shared the individual title at the Furman Intercollegiate in late March. He also isn't making his major championship debut here as he played in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, even finding his name on the leader board early in the first round.
__Masseo Manassero, 16, Verona, Italy
How he qualified:__ British Amateur champion
__Odds of making the cut:__10-1
Skinny: He will make history with his first tee shot, becoming the youngest golfer to ever play in the tournament. Nevertheless, the Italian has a game that is far more polished than most teenagers. He was T-12 at last year's British Open, earning low amateur honors at Turnberry. He has also made the cut in two European Tour events this year, suggesting he can hang with the play-for-pay set. The biggest distraction might be the fact that Manassero will turn pro after the Masters, and looking ahead to the future might strain his focus on the present. Says here, though that the young man will be playing come Saturday and Sunday, making certain that come the 2011 Masters amateurs aren't faced with the fact that it's "six years and counting" since one of them played on the weekend.
-- Ryan Herrington