PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — The promotions start running on television at the start of the year. They last only a few seconds, but the images of Augusta National and the mere mention of the Masters are compelling.
“They get guys jacked up,” David Toms said.
Toms is running out of time to make sure he’s part of this tradition like no other.
Coming off his worst season in 15 years, Toms was determined to get back among the elite. He started well in Hawaii and Arizona, but fell just short of qualifying for both World Golf Championships. Now, he has two weeks to move up from No. 66 in the world into the top 50, and failing that, would have to win the Shell Houston Open.
“I’m looking at playing the next three and giving it all I’ve got,” Toms said Wednesday afternoon at the Transitions Championship. “I’m going to have to have a great week somewhere. You can’t play mediocre.”
Toms isn’t alone.
Of the 144-man field at Innisbrook, only 31 players already have qualified for the Masters. This might be a great opportunity for one of the other 113 players to pick up a victory and take a drive down Magnolia Lane.
The group hopeful of making headway toward the top 50 include Rod Pampling, Mathew Goggin and Chad Campbell.
The last time Toms was in this position was at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He had not played there in seven years, and only showed up because it was his last chance to qualify for Match Play.
He missed the cut.
“I knew I was going to have to play well at Pebble, and then I pressed,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. But here, I’ve just had two weeks off, and I’m fresh.”
The field that will take on a tough Copperhead Course includes defending champion Sean O’Hair, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Kenny Perry, Doral runner-up Nick Watney and Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old from Japan who is playing his second PGA Tour event. Ishikawa missed the cut at Riviera last month.
What they all have in common is a spot at the Masters.
“I’m definitely looking toward Augusta,” Watney said. “I love that course and just the whole feel. The tournament is different than pretty much any one that we play. So I’m excited about it.”
Ishikawa received a special foreign invitation, making him the second-youngest player in Masters history. He still remembers the phone call he received from Augusta National, followed by a formal invitation that came in the mail – a regular-sized letter that felt heavy.
“I have been watching the Masters since I was in school, and the broadcasts of the Masters in Japan starts at like 4 a.m., which is very early,” Ishikawa said. “But I woke up every morning and watched the program before I went to school. So I’m happy about this, but it feels kind of strange for me to play in the Masters, because the Masters was only a TV thing for me.”
The Copperhead Course is enough to keep their attention.
O’Hair won last year at 4-under 280, the highest score to par that won a PGA Tour event in Florida last year.
This is not typical Florida.
The course has a surprising amount of elevation as it winds through towering pine trees and around water hazards. And without much rain in the Sunshine State over the last several months, the course has been running firm and fast, and in the best condition that players like Kenny Perry can ever remember.
“If the wind comes up again and they keep getting firmer and faster, I think a single digit (under par) is going to win again. This week, it’s all about ball-strikers. You’ll see the guys who are better from tee-to-green have success this week, and that’s always kind of been my bread-and-butter, the kind of courses I always seem to play well at.”
Perry isn’t sure what to expect this week because he’s tired.
He is 48 and has been playing the PGA Tour for more than two decades, but Perry experienced an unusual feeling this year. His kids are grown and have moved out of the house, and Perry figures he has nothing better to do than play golf.
Perry has already played seven times in 10 weeks, winning in Phoenix and moving up to No. 8 in the world.
“I just want to win golf tournaments,” he said.
O’Hair never expected to win this tournament last year. He was struggling with his game when he found something on the practice range two days before his tee time. He never shot better than 69 all week. But at Innisbrook, he didn’t have to.
“This is a course that you can go low on, but it’s definitely one where a 2-under-par round is a good round of golf, which I like,” O’Hair said. “It’s a thinking man’s golf course. It takes a lot of patience.”
Patience is what Toms will need this week, along with the rest of the players who already have the Masters on their mind.