Road to Masters begins this week in Arizona for some European players

Alex Noren
Getty Images
Alex Noren is oe of several European players who need to play well this week to stay in, or get in, the top 50 in the world ranking as the field for the Masters is finalized.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

MARANA, Ariz. -- The road to the Masters starts in Marana. At least for some European Tour members.

Alex Noren arrived at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at No. 51 in the world, and when he says this is a big week, he has more than just this tournament on his mind.

The ultimate goal is to be in the top 50 on March 31 to get into the Masters. But there figures to be a lot of movement in the coming weeks, and Noren needs to make sure he gets as many chances as possible. This is where it gets tough on the Swede, and a few other international players like him.

The top 50 in the world after the Match Play are eligible for the next World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral. So if Noren doesn't at least get by Dustin Johnson in the opening round, the Swede won't get another chance at picking up big ranking points. He is not a PGA Tour member, and thus is not in the Honda Classic.

"I've got to win a few matches to keep in the top 50," Noren said. "I'm trying to play good tournaments."

Noren probably won't get much sympathy from American-based players, especially those who didn't qualify for the Match Play. One reason international players have an advantage for this WGC event is the timing. After the PGA Tour season is over, Europe had big events in Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai. It began this year with strong events in places like Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai.

The cutoff for the Match Play was a week after Dubai.

For the next two months in Europe, the pickings are slim when it comes to ranking points. A year ago, the strongest field in Europe from Doral through its flagship BMW PGA Championship at Europe was the Malaysian Open, which awarded 36 points to the winner. Malaysia has moved this year opposite Bay Hill, and the field is likely to suffer. Louis Oosthuizen is not going back to defend.

So it's make-or-break time for guys like Noren, Shane Lowry (68), Stephen Gallacher (56) and Marcus Fraser of Australia, who is No. 54.

And while the Match Play typically offers 74 points to the winner, keep in mind that everybody in the top 64 is at Dove Mountain (except Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker), so winning a match or even two matches is not likely to make up much ground.

Chris Wood is at No. 59, but he is likely to get into Doral from being among the top 10 on the European Tour's money list. Ditto for Richard Sterne, who is No. 57. Fraser gets into Doral from the Asian Tour money list.

Still, they can't just show up. Those fields are stacked.

"I need to play well these few weeks," Fraser said. "If I can play well, I'll have a chance."

Fourteen of the 64 players at Dove Mountain are not in the Masters. Of that group, only one is an American -- Charles Howell III, who grew up in Augusta.