Passion of winners might sway Payne in deciding changes to Masters field

Russell Henley
Getty Images
Russell Henley was thinking about the Masters while he was wrapping up his victory in the Sony Open.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 4:37 p.m.

MARANA, Ariz. -- Russell Henley said he couldn't feel his arms or legs on the back nine of the Sony Open. He was trying to win his first PGA Tour event, and Georgia was on his mind.

''I was trying not to think about Augusta out there,'' Henley said after his win, which earned him a spot in the Masters.

Scott Piercy won the Canadian Open last summer and talked about a promise he made to himself to not go to Augusta National unless he was in the Masters field. Ted Potter Jr. said it was a career goal to play in Masters after he qualified by winning The Greenbrier Classic.

These stories likely are to weigh heavily on Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne when he decides whether PGA Tour winners in the fall will be invited to the Masters. Payne could announce changes to the criteria during his Wednesday news conference at the Masters.

Augusta National returned to its practice of inviting PGA Tour winners the year after the FedExCup began in 2007. But there was a caveat. The club invited winners only of tour events that offered full FedExCup points. The opposite-field events, and the Fall Series held after the FedExCup ended, didn't count.

The PGA Tour, however, is going to a wraparound season after this year. That means the six tournaments in the fall will be included in the 2013-14 FedExCup season.

The question for Augusta National is whether the winners of those six events will earn a trip down Magnolia Lane.

The club and tour have been talking about it the last several months, and one person involved described the discussions as positive.

The Masters has the smallest field of the majors and wants to keep it that way to enhance the experience of those playing. It has not had more than 100 competitors since 1966, though it has come close it recent years, with 99 in the 2011 tournament.

The most likely scenario is for the Masters to take the winners of the six fall events and eliminate the category of top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.

To follow that model a year ago, there would have been two fewer players at the Masters and three fewer players in 2011 and 2010. And with the U.S. Amateur Public Links soon to go away, that would free up another spot.

The Masters got away from inviting PGA Tour winners in 1999. That was the same year the World Golf Championships began, and with the WGCs came opposite-field events the same week. That's a polite way of saying ''watered-down fields,'' and the Masters did not deem those winners worthy of an invitation.

Gabriel Hjertstedt won in Tucson the week of the inaugural Match Play Championship. He remains the only opposite-field winner to get invited to the Masters.

When it stopped inviting winners after 1999, the club said it was interested in the most consistent player throughout the year. That's why the Masters is likely to continue taking the 30 players who qualify for the Tour Championship.

And perhaps it's no coincidence that the tour is looking to tweak its FedExCup points system so that one high finish in the playoff events doesn't get a player to East Lake (see Chez Reavie in 2011) and qualify him for three majors, including the Masters.