Despite sitting just outside the bubble for earning a Masters Tournament invitation, Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa won’t have to sweat out the last month trying to play his way into the season’s first major.
Augusta National Golf Club and Masters chairman Billy Payne announced Tuesday that Ishikawa has accepted a special invitation to compete in the 2012 Masters. It’s the second time Ishikawa has been granted a free pass to Augusta, the first time as a teenage phenomenon in 2009.
Now 20 and currently ranked No. 53 in the world, Ishikawa benefits again from the special exemption that is only offered to foreign-born players and has increasingly been used to bolster to Asian representation in the field. Regular Masters contenders Retief Goosen (ranked 52nd) and Ernie Els (65th) must still play their way into the field along with a handful of other international players on the bubble but not yet qualified.
“Historically, the Masters has invited international players not otherwise qualified to expand the tournament’s global reach,” said Payne in a release issued by the club. “Ryo Ishikawa is an accomplished player on the Japan Golf Tour, and we believe his presence will help increase interest not only in his home country, but also throughout Asia.”
It’s been a decade since Australian Greg Norman (2002) became the last non-Asian player to receive a special exemption into the Masters. Before Norman, countryman Aaron Baddeley received two special exemptions in 2000-01. The most recent special exemptions have gone to Lian-Wei Zhang (2004), Shingo Katayama (’05), Thongchai Jaidee (’06), Hideto Tanihara (’07), Liang Wen-Chong (’08), Prayad Marksaeng (’08), Jeev Milka Singh (’08) and Ishikawa (’09 and ’12).
Among the 95 invited players expected to compete in the Masters on April 5-8, 49 are international players and 46 are Americans. Six of the players in the field are from Asia compared to seven from Oceania, six from Africa and only one from South America.
Ishikawa has competed in the three previous Masters, his best finish coming last year when he tied for 20th.
He is only the second Japanese player yet qualified into the 2012 field, joining two-time Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama.