Masters week begins in earnest next Monday. Perennially the paramount event of the golf calendar, this year's tournament feels particularly momentous, with a red-hot Rory McIlroy aiming to finish his Grand Slam quest, Jordan Spieth looking to continue his historic Augusta National success and a healthy and rejuvenated Tiger Woods searching for his first green jacket in 14 years.
But as big as this Masters may appear, it will actually be quite small. At least in terms of the field.
Justin Harding and Shane Lowry qualified for the Masters on Sunday, finishing inside the Official World Golf Ranking top 50. Their invitations bring the number of competitors to 86. If that figure holds, it would be the fewest amount of players to tee it up at the Masters since the 1997 tournament.
There is still one spot up for grabs at this week's Valero Texas Open, as the winner receives an invitation if he's not already eligible. This was earned in dramatic fashion last year by Ian Poulter. The Englishman had been informed by various entities at the WGC-Dell Match Play that he had accumulated enough OWGR points for a Masters invite, only to discover 10 minutes before his quarterfinals match that one more win was required to earn his spot. Poulter lost that match 8 & 6 to Kevin Kisner. However, Poulter rallied at the Houston Open, defeating Beau Hossler in a playoff to receive a trip down Magnolia Lane. Poulter would ultimately finish T-44.
Some of the more notable names that haven't qualified for Augusta and are in the Texas Open field include Jim Furyk (who just missed out on the top 50 exemption), Ben An, Sungjae Im (the just-turned 21-year-old has three top-seven finishes in his last four events and five top 10s in his rookie campaign), Cameron Champ, PuntaCana winner Graeme McDowell, Andrew Putnam and Lucas Glover.
The Texas Open is in its first pre-Masters slotting year after the Houston Open was moved to the fall. Andrew Landry is the defending champ.