AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters found a way to keep its field small while bringing in more PGA Tour winners.
The PGA Tour is going to a wraparound schedule that starts in October, meaning the six events held in the fall will be part of the FedEx Cup season. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday the winners of those fall events will qualify for the Masters.
The only tour events that don’t include a Masters invitation are those held opposite majors or World Golf Championships — the Puerto Rico Open in March, the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi and the Reno-Tahoe Open.
“All of us take great pride and pleasure in seeing a tournament winner beam with pride and excitement knowing that his victory had earned him an invitation to the Masters,” Payne said.
To allow room for more winners, however, the Masters is making its first changes to the qualifications since 2007.
Only the top 12 and ties from the previous Masters will be eligible to return, down from the top 16 and ties. The top eight and ties from the U.S. Open used to be eligible for the Masters. That number will shrink to the top four and ties, same as the British Open and PGA Championship.
In the biggest change, the Masters will no longer include the top 30 from the PGA Tour money list.
The Masters since 2007 has invited the 30 players who reach the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship, and that will remain.
Payne announced one other change effective this year — the cut will increase from the top 44 to the top 50, including the 10-shot rule.
The changes to the criteria are to keep the field at Augusta National the smallest among majors. There were 94 eligible players this year — including Darren Clarke, who was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury — compared with 156 players at the other three majors.
The largest field in Masters history was 109 players in 1962, and the tournament has not had more than 100 players since 1966. There were 99 players in 2011.
“In recent years, our field of participating players has grown,” Payne said. “As I’ve said repeatedly, we annually examine our invitation criteria in order to main Bobby Jones’ desire to keep the Masters an intimate gathering of the world’s best competitors and to afford all players a reasonable expectation of completion in the reduced hours of sunlight in early spring.”
With a calendar schedule, the tour’s FedEx Cup season ended at the Tour Championship in September and was followed by the “Fall Series.” Those tournaments had the weakest fields of the year, comprised mainly of players who were trying to earn enough money to keep their cards.
Those tournaments will be the start of the new 2013-14 season in October — the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif., Las Vegas, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the McGladrey Classic in southeast Georgia and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico.
Jonas Blixt (Frys.com Open), Tommy Gainey (McGladrey) and Charlie Beljan, who won the now-defunct tournament at Disney were not eligible for the Masters this year. Disney had only one player from among the top 50 in the world ranking.
The changes are a boost to the PGA Tour because all of its tournaments that offer full FedEx Cup points now are treated equally.
The Masters did not have a cut until 1957, and it started by taking the top 40 and ties. That increased in 1962 to the top 44 and ties and has not been changed until this year. The 10-shot rules means that everyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds makes the cut.