LAST MAN IN
7 players we’d like to see win their way into the Masters this week
The Masters is a week away, and with it comes with several certainties. We know pimento cheese sandwiches will be sold at Augusta National, continuing the annual argument whether they’re actually edible. We know players will drive down Magnolia Lane and capture the excitement and beauty on video to share with the masses. We know Scottie Scheffler will put the green jacket on the new Masters winner Sunday evening in Butler Cabin—unless he defends his title, in which case Masters chairman Fred Ridley would put the jacket on Scheffler.
There is, however, one big uncertainty regarding the year’s first men’s major: whether one final player will be added to the field, which currently sits at 89 players. Jason Day, Harris English, Keith Mitchell and Min Woo Lee were just added earlier this week, after their respective World Rankings landed inside the top 50 following the WGC-Dell Match Play.
That’s where the Valero Texas Open plays a role. If the winner this week at TPC San Antonio doesn’t already have an invitation to Augusta, he earns one as the last entrant. J.J. Spaun did so last year. Corey Conners did in 2019.
“It’s essentially just a big Monday qualifier for the Masters, so if you win, you get in, which would be awesome,” Adam Schenk said Tuesday at the Valero Texas Open, perhaps the first time in history that Monday qualifier and the Masters were used in the same sentence.
Which got us thinking: Which player brings with him the best story if he were to claim that last invite and earn a trip to Augusta National Golf Club next week? Here are seven we think would fit the bill.
We’ll start with the obvious, the fan favorite, the man who finished in second place by a shot to Patrick Reed in 2018 and played Augusta every year from 2011-20. Even though he hasn’t qualified the past two years he’s trending upward—with five top-20 finishes in the last two months—and is now ranked No. 59 in the world. He played well last week at the Match Play and just missed out qualifying for the Round of 16.
Turned 21 earlier this year and just two weeks ago after a second-place finish at the Puerto Rico Open, he earned Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, letting him accept unlimited sponsor’s exemptions in his quest to rank inside the top 125 of FedEx Cup points this year and grab full exempt status for 2024. The lefty was a teen prodigy as an amateur and is a popular follow on social media. He was inside the top five last week in Puntacana after two rounds but tied for 24th place, his third top-25 in six starts.
The Irishman is riding high after just getting the nod for the World Golf Hall of Fame, and frankly we just think it’d be great to have Paddy at Augusta National again because any golf tournament is better with him in the field. He played last year, via his fourth-place tie in the 2021 PGA, but he missed the cut. In his career, he’s competing in 16 Masters and has three top-10 finishes. He’s also, at 51, still grinding on his game as much as ever. He played twice on the Florida Swing (Honda and Arnold Palmer) and made the cut in both.
Difficult not to love the idea of this coming to fruition. Coody, 23, is the grandson of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody. What a scene it would to have grandpa at the Tuesday night Masters Champions dinner and then see him watching his son’s son play in his first Masters. Pierceson has game too, as he makes his fourth PGA Tour start of the season this week in Texas. He’s won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour, including last month at the Panama Championship.
We’ll be honest, Kuchar would not be on this list if not for his terrific performance last week at the Match Play, where he advanced out of the group stage before falling to Jason Day on the 18th hole in the Round of 16. But that moved him up to No. 66 in the world and it’s also the 25th anniversary of when he was low amateur in 1998 and tied for 21st place. He did not play last year but has three top-five finishes. It would mean a lot for him to come back one more time.
Recency bias, but that’s the point. The Englishman was ranked No. 209 two weeks ago and he’s now up to No. 117 after putting together two terrific finishes—a tie for seventh at the Valspar Championship and a victory last week at the Corales Puntacana Championship, his first on the PGA Tour. It’s always a treat when someone gets on a hot streak heading into a major and it’d be impressive to see Wallace win back-to-back. He’s played in three Masters but was watching from home a year ago.
The PGA Tour rookie has been hovering right around the top 50 in the world since the beginning of the year, has played well for most of it, and has just not been able to crack the magic number, which would have given him an invite. Last week at the Match Play he was 2-1 after three days and got into a playoff with Mackenzie Hughes for the right to advance out of the group stage. But he hit a short, uncharacteristic, pop-up drive well right off the tee of the first playoff hole and he later conceded the hole.