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Last-minute invites to the Masters create tournament-within-a-tournament vibe at the WGC-Dell Match Play

March 24, 2019

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Time is running out for anyone hoping to sneak into this year’s Masters at the wire. There are just two more PGA Tour events where the winner would earn a spot into the Augusta National field if they’re not already in—next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play Championship and the Valero Texas Open a week later. Meanwhile, any player within the top 50 of the World Ranking come next Sunday night at the conclusion of the WGC-Match Play who hasn’t already qualified will also get a golden ticket to Augusta.

This second scenario creates an intriguing tournament within a tournament this coming week at Austin Country Club. Currently, there are two players inside the top 50 not already qualified for Augusta—Ireland’s Shane Lowry at No. 48 and South Africa’s Justin Harding at No. 49—both of whom are playing in the match play. The four-person groups they’ll be playing in won’t be determined until Monday afternoon. Should either of them advance out of group play into the final 16, their spots in Augusta will be clinched, and even if they did not advance, they’ve got reasonable good shots of remaining in the top 50.

More intriguing are the number of players outside of the top 50 who are in the Match Play field and who with a solid showing next week could get into Augusta at the buzzer. The list runs nine deep and spans various ages, nationalities and experience levels at Augusta. (World Ranking in parenthesis.)

Byeong Hun An (51)
Andrew Putnam (53)
Jim Furyk (54)
Chez Reavie (57)
Abraham Ancer (61)
Russell Knox (62)
Tom Lewis (63)
Lee Westwood (65)
Luke List (69)

To have a shot of moving into the top 50, any of these nine will need to win their groups and advance to the final 16 and the head-to-head match play bracket. And even then for lower-ranked players like Knox, Lewis, Westwood or List, getting into the semifinals or farther is going to be necessary.

The current Masters field sits at 84 with only three players having won PGA Tour events in 2019 that have gotten them in: Adam Long at the Desert Classic, J.B. Holmes at the Genesis Open and Keith Mitchell at the Honda Classic. Assuming Lowry and Harding get in off the top 50 list after the Match Play, that brings the Masters field to 86, which would be the smallest field since 86 played in 1997.

UPDATE: Twitter’s top World Ranking guru, @Nosferatu, has an update on his projections for what each player needs to do to jump into the top 50. He also incorporates one other wildcard, South Korea’s Sungjae Im. He was outside the top 64 after the Players, so he did not qualify for the WGC-Match Play. But his T-4 finish at Valspar moved him to No. 59 in the world. He'll play in this week’s PGA Tour event at Punta Cana that’s opposite the Match Play and with a solo second or better could jump into the top 50 as well.