In the next few weeks, 16 additional golfers will receive the best holiday gift of all: an invitation to the 2007 Masters Tournament.
The majority of the field for the 71st Masters was set Monday when the final Official World Golf Ranking of the year was released. The top 50 at the end of 2006 are eligible, and Bradley Dredge of Wales got the final spot by one-hundredth of a point over Justin Rose.
The invitation list includes 17 players who will be competing for the first time at Augusta National Golf Club, including Ryder Cup players J.J. Henry, Brett Wetterich and Robert Karlsson of Sweden.
The Masters will be held April 5-8. Phil Mickelson is the defending champion.
The field will include two Singhs for the first time: Vijay Singh, the 2000 champion, and Jeev Milkha Singh, who won the season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama on the European Tour and is No. 37 in the world.
Jeev Singh also is the first player from India to get a Masters invitation, while Camilo Villegas will be the second player from Colombia; Miguel Salas competed from 1961 to 1964, making the cut once.
Masters invitations are expected to go in the mail this week, only the envelopes don't look like anything special. Charles Howell, who grew up in Augusta, once recalled getting his letter and almost throwing it away.
"It's a plain, normal, white envelope," he said. "Doesn't say Augusta National, no return address."
Howell has yet to qualify for the 2007 Masters - he is No. 82 in the world. Augustan Vaughn Taylor, a U.S. Ryder Cup member, is one of two players with local ties who can start making preparations for golf's first major. Taylor qualified by finishing among the top 40 on the PGA Tour money list. Larry Mize, an Augusta native who now lives in Columbus, Ga., is exempt because of his 1987 Masters victory.
Criteria for the Masters range from major champions over the past five years to top finishes in the other three majors, although the bulk of players comes from the PGA Tour money list (top 40) and the world ranking (top 50).
Howell was No. 52 on the PGA Tour money list and is danger of missing the Masters for the first time since 2001, his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
There is still hope for him and players such as Rose and former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman. The field isn't set until the spring, the Monday after the World Golf Championship at Doral. Augusta National will issue invitations to the top 50 in the world and the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list that are published March 26.
The Masters also can issue special invitations to international players.
Rose got married last week and didn't play, and a slight change in the points pushed Dredge ahead of him. Lee Westwood needed to finish 12th or higher in the South African Open last weekend, and his tie for eighth was enough to assure he would stay in the top 50 by the end of the year. He was at No. 49.
Of the 16 players who qualified Monday through the world ranking, Ben Crane (No. 41) was the only American.
It was not clear how many players were expected to compete at the Masters because Augusta National was waiting to hear from past champions, who are exempt for life.
Charles Coody said last year he would not play again, and three-time winner Nick Faldo said this year he would not play because of his new job as the CBS Sports golf analyst.
Players added to the 2007 Masters field because they will be in the top 50 of the World Golf Ranking:
Darren Clarke.............N. Ireland
Jeev Milkha Singh.......India
Another award for Tiger Woods/2C
World Golf Ranking/2C
Current Masters field/3C
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