AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Ryo Ishikawa of Japan is headed back to the Masters with another special invitation.
Augusta National Golf Club said Friday that Ishikawa and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand have accepted the invitations, which are reserved for international players. It will be the fifth straight year the 21-year-old Ishikawa is playing the Masters. This is his third special exemption.
Thaworn is No. 68 in the world and won the Asian Tour money title last year. He also holds the Asian Tour record for most career victories, winning the Hero India Open last year for his 15th title.
Ishikawa dropped as low as No. 91 in the world late last year before his game picked up. He won the Taiheiyo Masters for his 10th career title on the Japan Golf Tour, part of seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 tournaments of the year. He is No. 75 in the world.
“Through our established qualifications, and invitations to select international players not otherwise qualified, we historically bring together a collection of the world's top players, and this year is no different,'' Masters chairman Billy Payne said. “The Masters has long established a tradition of supporting the global game, and we were excited to extend invitations to Thaworn Wiratchant and Ryo Ishikawa, who we hope will provide added interest and enthusiasm for golf in Asia through their participation in the tournament.''
Ishikawa is sure to get attention because no other player has received more exemptions over the last 10 years. Ishikawa is a rock star in Japan, however, having won his first tournament as a 15-year-old amateur. But his game went into a deep slump last year, when he missed the cut in the first three majors before a tie for 59th in the PGA Championship.
Ishikawa came under more scrutiny last year when he received an invitation ahead of Ernie Els, who had fallen out of the top 50. Els went on to win the British Open for his fourth major championship.
The special exemptions, however, typically go to players who are not PGA Tour members, and the Masters looks mainly at Asian players because of its television contracts and the rapid growth and interest in golf in the region. That's why it helped to create the Asia Pacific Amateur, with the winner getting a spot in the Masters. This year, the winner was Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old from China, who will be the youngest player in Masters history.
PGA Tour members have several different categories through which they can qualify, such as winning a tournament, finishing in the top 30 on the money list or reaching the final event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
This might be the last year of an exemption for Ishikawa. The Japanese star has joined the PGA Tour for the first time.