The Masters: It’s Not All About the Field

Given the hype surrounding this year's 82nd Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday at the Augusta National Golf Club, one could be led to believe it's one of the best and deepest fields of the year. That's just not the case. Compared to even some regular PGA Tour events, not to mention The Players Championship, the Masters Tournament field doesn't match up once you get beyond the top 50 or 60 players that will tee it up Thursday morning. Let's take a look at what a player needs to accomplish in order to qualify for a spot in the most exclusive major tournament in professional golf.

There are 20 categories of qualification into the Masters Tournament:

1. Masters Tournament champions
2. U.S. Open champions (5-year exemption)
3. The Open champions (5-year exemption)
4. PGA champions (5-year exemption)
5. The Players Championship winners (3-year exemption)
6. Current Olympic Golf Medalist (One year) - Not applicable this year
7. A/B: Current U.S. Amateur champion and runner-up (must be an amateur at the time of the Masters)
8. Current British Amateur champion (must be an amateur at the time of the Masters)
9. Current Asia-Pacific Amateur champion (must be an amateur at the time of the Masters)
10. Current Latin America Amateur champion (must be an amateur at the time of the Masters)
11. Current Mid-Amateur champion (must be an amateur at time of Masters)
12. First 12 players (including ties) in previous year's Masters
13. First 4 players (including ties) in previous year's U.S. Open
14. First 4 players (including ties) in previous year's Open Championship
15. First 4 players (including ties) in previous year's PGA Championship
16. Individual winners of PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the season-ending Tour Championship, from previous Masters to current masters
17. Qualifiers for previous year's season-ending Tour Championship
18. Top 50 on the final Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) for the previous calendar year
19. The 50 leaders on the Official World Golf Rankings published during the week prior to the current Masters Tournament
20. Special exemptions

With the exception of categories 16 and 19, the qualification criteria doesn't necessarily create a particularly hot or deep field. Ian Poulter, who was 51st in the OWGR in the last rankings, ended up qualifying via his exciting victory in the Houston Open this past Sunday. But Beau Hossler, who lost to Poulter in the playoff, is 28th in the FedEx Cup standings and won't be in Augusta. Thirty-six of the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings qualified for the field of 87 players, meaning at least 14 PGA Tour pros who are playing very well in the current season won't be competing for a green jacket.

Another factor in the lack of depth of the field is the inclusion of all prior champions under the age of 65 and at least six amateurs. This year, with the exception of perhaps Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh, no former green jacket winner over the age of 50 has much of chance of making the cut, much less competing for a green jacket. Fred Couples has had a knack for sneaking into the weekend recently, but he hasn't been playing much competitive golf and the younger players are just so long it puts even Couples at a distinct disadvantage.

The allure of The Masters, however, is not the depth of the field, but that it's the first major of the season and the only one played on the same course every year, creating over three-quarters of a century of memories. Golf fans are familiar with almost every inch of the back nine of one of the most exclusive and beautiful golf courses in the world. Access to patron badges for the tournament has been closed for a couple of decades and even the lottery for practice round tickets is almost impossible to crack.

Even though the field isn't particularly deep, only one first-time player (with the exception of the first two in 1934 and 1935) has won the title. That was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, who also went on to win a U.S. Open. Unfortunately, he has been persona non grata at the event since making a regrettable comment about Tiger Woods' possible champions' dinner menu selections following his historic victory in 1997.

There is a lot of buzz around this year's tournament, particularly because of the recent play of some former champions: Tiger Woods has contended in a couple of events; Phil Mickelson came away with a win in Mexico; Bubba Watson has resurrected his game with victories at the Genesis Open and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Jordan Spieth seems to have solved his putting woes after a closing 66 in Houston.

Among those that are looking for their first green jacket: Justin Thomas is playing well; Dustin Johnson is always a threat after missing last year's Masters with an injury; Rory McIlroy is coming off a win at Bay Hill in his quest for the career grand slam; two-time runner up Justin Rose is playing incredibly consistent golf; Ricky Fowler needs to overcome his weekend woes, and Jon Rahm is poised to break through in the majors, just as his countryman Sergio Garcia did at Augusta a year ago.

So even though the depth of the field is lacking, the top players are all in attendance, with the exception of reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who is out of action due to a nagging wrist injury. The big question is will the winner come from the list of favorites, as it has 15 of the last 22 years, or will we see a surprise like Danny Willett or Trevor Immelman, neither of whom has been competitive since donning their green jackets? Given the way some former champions are playing this season, I would have to take Tiger, Phil, Jordan, the Justins, Dustin, Bubba, Ricky, and Rahm against the field.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on

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