THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The final official shot of 2008 was a tap-in birdie by Richard Sterne to win the South African Open in a playoff, capping his unlikely climb in the world rankings to be among 15 players Sunday earning a Masters invitation.
Three players on two continents made one final push for the top 50 in the rankings to make the trip to Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tied for third at the South African Open and will move up to No. 39, while Lin Wen-Tang of Taiwan tied for sixth in the Volvo Masters on the Asian Tour and will be No. 49.
Augusta National since 2000 has invited the top 50 in the rankings at the end of the calendar year. With no more official tournaments remaining, the final 2008 rankings were determined Sunday.
The 15 players not otherwise eligible except for their top-50 ranking were Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher, Luke Donald, Shingo Kayatama, Graeme McDowell, Rory Sabbatini, Jeev Milkha Singh, Aaron Baddeley, McIlroy, Oliver Wilson, Sterne, Soren Hansen, Tang and Soren Kjeldsen.
Along with other criteria, that puts the Masters field at 88 players who are expected to compete April 10-13. Among those still not eligible are Woody Austin, Scott Verplank, Davis Love III and J.B. Holmes, the only Ryder Cup player who could miss the first major of the year.
Augusta National has the smallest field of the four majors, and it most likely will get larger.
Players still can qualify by winning one of 13 PGA Tour events leading to the Masters, or by getting into the top 50 in the rankings published a week before the Masters. The Masters has not had more than 100 competitors since 1966.
No one made a bigger move than Sterne, who was ranked No. 113 two weeks ago. But he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open in consecutive weeks to move up 70 spots to No. 43.
Lin also was out of the top 100 in early November but began his move by winning the Hong Kong Open and securing his place with a tie for sixth in the Volvo Masters.