Top 50 make final push for Masters invites

Top 50 make final push for Masters invites

(AP) — Nine tournaments over the final three weeks of the season could determine who goes to Augusta National in April.

While the PGA Tour season ended Nov. 2 when Davis Love III won at Disney – no, that did not qualify him for the Masters – tournaments around the globe are causing subtle changes in the top 50 in the world ranking that decides who gets a Masters invitation.

Oliver Wilson of England was 55th at the start of November, but a runner-up finish in the HSBC Champions has moved him up to No. 41, meaning J.B. Holmes likely will be the only Ryder Cup player who has yet to qualify for the Masters.

Jeev Singh won the Singapore Open, moving him up 17 spots to No. 44. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland was languishing at No. 79 until he tied for fourth in Singapore and tied for second in the Hong Kong Open, giving him a chance at No. 49.

The biggest move belonged to Lin Wen-Twang of Taiwan, who won the Hong Kong Open and has moved up from No. 107 at the start of November to No. 50 going into the final three weeks.

The top 50 at the end of the 2008 earn invitations to the first major of the year.

Woody Austin ended the PGA Tour season at No. 46, but with so much movement into the top 50, he has dropped to No. 51 and figures to fall even more.

The December schedule features three tournaments in South Africa, two in Australia, three on the Asian Tour and one in Japan. If the ranking stays the way it is for the final month, the Masters field already will have 89 players going into next year. Then, the winners of 13 events on the PGA Tour will get automatic invitations, along with the top 50 in the world ranking published a week before the Masters.

The last time the Masters had more than 100 players in the field was in 1966.


EUROPEAN SHOT: Padraig Harrington, the first European to win successive majors in the same season, has won the “European Tour Shot of the Year Award” for 2008.

The debate must have been which shot.

A panel of golf writers, broadcasters and golf dignitaries settled on the Irishman’s 5-wood to about 4 feet for an eagle on the 17th hole at Royal Birkdale, effectively clinching victory in the British Open.

“It’s one of the few times I think I’ve ever heard my caddie say, ‘Good shot,’ before the ball is finished,” Harrington said.

Runner-up went to Graeme McDowell for his 7-iron on the third hole of a playoff against Jeev Singh to win the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship in Korea. Harrington’s other shot – that 5-iron to 10 feet for birdie on the 71st hole of the PGA Championship to break a tie with Sergio Garcia – finished third.


FINCHEM’S PAY: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had a $400,000 drop in his compensation last year, but the $4.8 million in salary and bonuses was still enough to be the equivalent of No. 3 on the money list for the second straight year.

The Sports Business Journal, citing the latest IRS forms the tour is required to file, said Finchem received $1.3 million in salary, $3.2 million in bonus and $240,000 in benefits. In 2006, he received about $5.2 million, which spokesman Ty Votaw attributed to an additional bonus the commissioner received for “extraordinary service in 2005.”

Finchem made $4.2 million in 2005, the equivalent of No. 5 on the money list.

The journal said Finchem still earned less than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman ($5.59 million) and less than half the compensation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ($11.2 million prorated).

The tour’s tax forms indicate that co-chief operating officers Ed Moorhouse ($1.6 million) and Charlie Zink ($1.5 million) were the next highest-paid employees, followed by chief marketing officer Tom Wade and chief financial officer Ron Price at $1 million each.

According to the most recent IRS forms available for the LPGA Tour, commissioner Carolyn Bivens earned $710,812 in salary and benefits in 2006. Two years earlier, in his final full year as LPGA commissioner, Votaw was paid $478,897.


CURTIS AND EUROPE: An American major champion joined the European tour’s “Race to Dubai” and hardly anyone noticed. Ben Curtis said during the World Cup last week that he will be a member this year with hopes of reaching the $10 million Dubai World Championship.

“It makes it interesting and a lot of fun to try to compete on both tours and do well on both,” Curtis said. “It’s a lot of fun to play golf around the world, and not just in the United States. It’s tough now with two kids, but I can make it happen. And it would be pretty neat to be able to do well on both – finish in the top 10 on both tours. It could be quite an accomplishment.”

Others who have joined included Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas of Colombia. Phil Mickelson considered joining, but has not decided, especially with Europe not adding the Barclays Singapore Open to its schedule.

Curtis might have some company in Brandt Snedeker, his partner in the World Cup.

Snedeker plans to play in Qatar and possibly Abu Dhabi to start out next year, and he said he probably would join if he can get in the minimum 12 events required for membership.

“We’re talking about playing a tournament worth $10 million, and everybody is going to want to try to play in it,” Snedeker said. “I don’t have any kids at home. I just got married. I have no reason not to want to travel the world and see it. So it’s a great excuse for me to get out there and travel some.”

Snedeker might want to make up his mind before he gets to Qatar. Money earned in Europe does not count toward the Race to Dubai until a player like Snedeker pays to become an affiliate member.


DIVOTS: Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer have joined the eight-man field of four teams in the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game at Kaanapali Beach Resort in Hawaii at the end of February. Langer will be partners with Gary Player, while Norman will pair with Jay Haas. Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen are the defending champions, with the other team Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. … Colin Montgomerie, who married for the second time in April, has moved from the London area to his native Scotland. “Quality of life has risen,” he said. … Twenty of the 164 players in the final stage of Q-school are past PGA Tour winners, including one major champion (Mark Brooks). Five years ago, 15 of the 171 players who reached the final stage were past champions.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Bill Haas finished 104th on the PGA Tour for the second straight year, making an additional $33,496 in 2008 to stay in the same position.


FINAL WORD: “Hopefully, he plays 72 holes and ends with 14 clubs.” – Geoff Ogilvy on John Daly playing in the Australian PGA Championship. Six years ago, Daly threw his putter into the pond after the second round and was disqualified for not signing his card.

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