Through six PGA Tour events this year, four players have earned a spot in the Masters. There are six weeks left before Augusta National again uses the top 50 in the world ranking to issue invitations. Seven PGA Tour events remain where the winner can qualify for the Masters.
Ninety-five eligible players are expected to compete at the Masters.
The good news for Augusta National is that everyone currently in the top 50 already is eligible. Depending on how the next seven weeks turn out, the Masters field has a chance to top 100 players for the first time since 1966.
TAMPA FIELD GETS STRONGER: PGA Champion Martin Kaymer and 17-year-old Matteo Manassero have accepted exemptions to play in the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook.
The tournament also offered an exemption to Dubai winner Alvaro Quiros, one of golf’s longest hitters.
The Transitions Championship will be played March 17-20. Jim Furyk is the defending champion of a tournament that quietly has attracted one of the stronger fields leading to the Masters.
Kaymer is ranked No. 2 and will be playing Innisbrook for the first time.
MOLINARI IN MATCH PLAY: Francesco Molinari of Italy says he will play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Molinari won the HSBC Champions last year and is No. 17 in the world ranking. He had planned to skip the World Golf Championship because his wife was expecting their first child. She gave birth to a boy Feb. 6, so Molinari says he’s going to Arizona.
The Italian announced the news on Twitter: “Decision made, leaving Sunday for Tucson. Looking forward to the Matchplay!”
He lost in the first round last year to Zach Johnson.
Molinari’s decision means all 64 players intend to play at Dove Mountain. The tournament begins Feb. 23.
ELS OUT AT RIVIERA: Ernie Els has withdrawn from the Northern Trust Open at Riviera because of a sore neck.
Martin Hardy, his spokesman at International Sports Management, says he is not sure how Els tweaked his neck. He says doctors have advised the three-time major champion to rest it for a week.
Els is expected to return next week for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
The South African already was in the midst of one of the longest winter breaks of his career. Els last played at the Sony Open in Honolulu, then took off the next four weeks. With a sore neck, that will make for a five-week break.
DIVOTS: The PGA Grand Slam of Golf has changed its criteria for alternates. Instead of taking the former major champion with the best record in the 2011 majors, the first alternate will be the defending champion. That would be Ernie Els for this year in Bermuda, provided the Big Easy doesn’t qualify by winning a major. … U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang received one of five amateur exemptions to the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The others went to Cydney Clanton, Lisa McCloskey, Kristen Park and Meghan Stasi. The LPGA Tour’s first major is March 31 to April 3. … Lee Trevino, 71, said he will play in the Toshiba Classic on March 11-13 at Newport (Calif.) Country Club. It will be the only official, full-field event he plays this year on the Champions Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Dubai Desert Classic, where Tiger Woods tied for 20th, was only the third time in 30 non-PGA Tour events overseas that he finished out of the top 10.
FINAL WORD: “I really do believe that your game is based a lot on the physical place you were brought up playing golf. … You’ll rarely see somebody with a good golf swing coming from a windy golf course.” -- Padraig Harrington.