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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

When it comes to the Masters field, quantity and quality will always help

The Masters field size has became a conversation point – the possibility exists that it could top 100 players for the first time in a half century – another hard look at the evolving entry requirements is needed, writes Steve Elling.
Defending Masters Champion Adam Scott of Australia, right, helps Bubba Watson of the US into his second green jacket after winning the 2014 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, USA, 13 April 2014. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
Defending Masters Champion Adam Scott of Australia, right, helps Bubba Watson of the US into his second green jacket after winning the 2014 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, USA, 13 April 2014. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

The man who won more Masters titles than anybody in history finally capitulated on the point, though it required some minor arm twisting.

A few years back, at the point in time when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were taking turns donning the green jacket, Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters a record six times, agreed that the season’s first major championship ranks as the least arduous to win.

“Easiest major to win?” Nicklaus said, repeating the query before pausing. “I suppose it probably is.”

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The point is obvious, really. The Masters has the smallest field of the four grand slam events, with typically about 95 players, many of whom are ageing former champions or young amateurs exempted into the event by Augusta National officials.

This week, as the Masters field size became a conversation point – the possibility exists that it could top 100 players for the first time in a half century – another hard look at the evolving entry requirements is needed.

Forget paring, it should top 100 players every year.

It is laudable that the Augusta National brass has recently launched amateur events in Asia and South America, dangling a Masters invitation to the winner in an attempt to grow the game in non-traditional markets, but far too many quality professionals are getting short shrift as a result.

This year, seven amateurs will play at Augusta, along with at least a half-dozen 50-something players who have little chance of making the 36-hole cut, much less contending.

That leaves about 80 professionals, or roughly the number who would make the cut during most tour weeks – hardly the creme de la creme when it comes to heavyweight fields.

In 2013, the Masters featured 63 players from the top 100. Eight other events that season included more players from the top 100.

Exclusive, yes. But whether truly elite is open to debate.

Meanwhile, the final major of the season, the PGA Championship, includes the top 100 players in the world rankings and continues to underscore the narrow gap between No 1 and No 100.

For instance, YE Yang, at No 110, upset Tiger Woods, the man at the top of the pile, in head-to-head fashion at the PGA six years ago.

The talent pool in golf is so deep it is arguable as to whether there are upsets anymore.

The three other majors have 156 players each. The Masters sends players solely off the first tee and diminished daylight in April is always an issue, so field size is a legitimate consideration.

But the other PGA Tour-sanctioned invitationals have mandatory field sizes of 120 players.

For the Masters and events in general, especially given the depth charge in the global game, bigger is generally better, not worse.

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