AUGUSTA, GA. — The Masters always comprises the smallest field of the four majors and, for that reason, has sometimes been considered the easiest to win. But the field for this year’s event is 99 players strong, and that number has officials at Augusta National considering measures that could reduce the size in future years.
“We are really going to have to look at it this year, because there is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and do it in a way that’s manageable,” Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday. “The hundred pushes that limit quite significantly.”
The Masters is the only major that does not use both the first and 10th tees to begin play in the first two rounds, and officials want to continue play from No. 1 in the future. In order to do that, though, the first group will tee off at 7:45 a.m. Thursday — 15 minutes before the course typically opens.
The field is the largest since 1966, and it has grown — at least by a few competitors — since officials allowed in anyone who won one of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup events. Tweaks to the ways players can qualify — the top 16 from the previous year’s Masters, the top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings, etc. — could help shrink the field in future years.
“It is borderline to be able to present the kind of competition that we want to,” Payne said.
The last European to win the Masters was Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, way back in 1999. Now, five of the top six players in the world rankings — Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey — are from Europe, and that doesn’t include talents like Rory McIlroy. All of that helps give the Euros a swagger they haven’t had here in years.
“I would say this is the most confident I’ve been coming into this championship,” said Donald, who won the Accenture World Match Play over Kaymer earlier this season. . . .
Donald won the annual par-3 contest, thus immediately eliminating himself from contention. Well, not quite, but no winner of the contest — played on the nine-hole par-3 course adjacent to the championship layout — has ever gone on to win the Masters. . . .
Tennis star Andy Roddick caddied for Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, in the par-3 contest. Craig Stadler, who won the 1982 Masters, had the day’s only hole-in-one.