Final push for a Masters invitation begins now

Miguel Angel Jimenez
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Miguel Angel Jimenez is ranked No. 48 entering the week.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) -- Joost Luiten better hope his decision to hit one shot at the BMW Masters doesn't keep him out of that other "Masters."

This is the last big week of tournaments around the world as players try to finish inside the top 50 to earn an invitation to Augusta National in April. Luiten is at No. 52 going into the Nedbank Challenge, but here's where it gets interesting.

Luiten had a sore shoulder in Shanghai. He had to play two of three "Final Series" events on the European Tour to be eligible for the finale in Dubai. So he chose to hit one shot off the first tee at Lake Malaren in the BMW Masters and withdraw. He rested his shoulder for two weeks, played Turkey and then tied for fourth in Dubai.

However, that added one tournament to his total in the world ranking formula. If he had not been required to play the BMW Masters, Luiten would be at No. 49.

Ultimately, however, his performance will dictate whether he gets into the Masters. Even though it's late in the year, the fields on three continents are packed with good players at the World Challenge in California, the Hong Kong Open and the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.

The strongest field is in California, though it will have no bearing on the Masters because all 18 players at Sherwood are already eligible (and all of them are in the top 30).

Miguel Angel Jimenez (No. 48) is playing in Hong Kong, by far the weakest of the three fields. If he doesn't play well, the Spaniard risks being passed in the ranking by Richard Sterne (No. 51) or Luiten in South Africa. Also playing in South Africa are Gary Woodland (No. 57 but already in the Masters), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (No. 60) and Peter Uihlein (No. 67).

The final tournament of the year is the Nelson Mandela Invitational, though the field is expected to be weak. Among those expected to play are Branden Grace, currently at No. 50.

For the players who don't quite crack the top 50, Augusta National takes the top 50 one week before the Masters. Then again, Geoff Ogilvy missed the top 50 by one shot in Australia at the end of last year and went backward at the start of a new season.

 

WHEN GOLF GETS IN THE WAY OF FOOTBALL: Jason Dufner took to Twitter to ask tournament host Tiger Woods if the World Challenge could change to 36 holes on Thursday and Friday "so I can watch my beloved Auburn" play for the SEC Championship.

If nothing else, it got Woods to tweet something for the first time in a month: "Petition denied."

Auburn and Missouri play at 1 p.m. PST, so Dufner's best hope is to play so poorly in the opening two rounds that he's off the course by then.

Woods, who went to Stanford, has no such problem. The Cardinal and Arizona State play for the Pac-12 title at 4:45 p.m. PST, well after the third round is over. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State (Hunter Mahan) goes after a Big 12 title when it plays Oklahoma at 9 a.m. PST.

 

ROOKIE STARS: One of the best rivalries in golf this year was not a rivalry except when measuring achievements on two tours.

Jordan Spieth started the PGA Tour season with no status and earned temporary membership, won the John Deere Classic, qualified for the Tour Championship, was picked for the Presidents Cup team and finished No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings. It was the best rookie season on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods started with no status and won twice in his first seven tournaments in 1996.

Across the ocean, Hideki Matsuyama was equally impressive on the Japan Golf Tour.

The 21-year-old Japanese star didn't turn pro until April. He won four times this year, and his win last week in the Casio World Open made him the first rookie to win the Japanese money title with just more than $2 million. Matsuyama had a pair of top 10s in the majors (he tied for 19th in the PGA Championship), and he earned his PGA Tour card for the 2013-14 season. In his first tour event as a member, he tied for third in the Frys.com Open.

Spieth earned 184.432 ranking points this year and is No. 22 in the world. Matsuyama earned 157.47 points and is No. 23 in the world.

 

SEMINOLE JACK: Jack Nicklaus grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and won an NCAA title at Ohio State. He even dotted the "i" at a Buckeyes football game.

But as Nicklaus told the Palm Beach Post this week, "blood is thicker than anything else."

His grandson, Nick O'Leary, is the starting tight end for Florida State, and the top-ranked Seminoles could very well meet Ohio State if both teams win their conference championships on Saturday. Nicklaus said his allegiance would be with Florida State.

Maybe Nicklaus saw this coming.

He was at his alma mater at the start of the football season and told Ohio State coach Urban Meyer that he had already secured tickets to the title game in the Rose Bowl. Meyer cautioned Nicklaus not to jinx the Buckeyes, only for Nicklaus to tell him, "Urban, I bought the tickets for Florida State. I hope you get there."

 

THE CUPS RUNNETH OVER: Add a couple of more cups to the calendar.

Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand have been selected as playing captains for the inaugural EurAsia Cup. The team matches will be played March 27-29 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Among those expected to compete are Graeme McDowell, Jamie Donaldson and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

It gives Europe team match competition in a Ryder Cup year.

Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin have been named honorary captains of the "Concession Cup," to be played May 1-3 at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla. The matches are for leading mid-amateurs, senior amateurs and super senior amateurs from the United States against Britain & Ireland.

The club was named after the moment of sportsmanship at the 1969 Ryder Cup, when Nicklaus conceded Jacklin a short par putt for the event to end in a tie. The Americans retained the cup.

 

DIVOTS: Brandt Snedeker is being replaced in the Franklin Templeton Shootout field by Harris English. Snedeker hurt his left knee after losing his balance on a Segway in China, and is taking the rest of the year off as a precaution. He is expected to return at the Tournament of Championship at Kapalua the first week of January. ... The European Tour has appointed David Williams chairman of the board, replacing Neil Coles, who retired this year. ... The winners in golf over the last few weeks include Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel and Luke Donald. ... Steve Stricker is the only player from the top 10 in the world who has not won this year.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker are the only players from the top 25 in the world who are not playing this week.

 

FINAL WORD: "I have spent more time in the ice bucket than a bottle of Moet & Chandon over the last month." - Henrik Stenson, who has been coping with a wrist injury.

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