Let's rewind the tape on the 2000 season and do a little editing. Despite a heroic last-minute charge by Tiger Woods, Matt Gogel hangs on to win at Pebble Beach, thus ending Woods's winning streak at five. A week earlier in Phoenix, Tom Lehman, not Robert Allenby, comes a cropper on the 72nd hole, handing the victory to the Australian. The week before that, South Africa's Rory Sabbatini pars in on the back nine to edge Jesper Parnevik by a stroke.
There you have it, folks, three new Tour champions, previously unknown, mostly unheralded and, sad to say, definitely uninvited to the Masters.
Why, you ask? We take you back to November 1998, when the Lords of Augusta announced they had jiggered with the 16-category list of qualifications for invitation to their tournament in 2000. "We think our new methodology better reflects the changes in golf," said chairman William (Hootie) Johnson. Translation: We want to make certain that all players we consider qualified get in, and weed out the riffraff that keeps sneaking in the backdoor.
So what the gentlemen in the green jackets did was eliminate category 13, which said that all the winners of Tour events played between one Masters and the next would be invited. No sir, not anymore. The upshot: Six 1999 winners- Rich Beem, Olin Browne, Brad Faxon, Brian Henninger, J.L. Lewis and Tom Pernice Jr.—won't be packing their bags for Augusta this April. If Gogel and Co. had won this winter, the number of Tour winners MIA (missing in Augusta) would have been nine.
Eliminating number 13 was a ludicrous decision, and Masters officials are probably just beginning to realize it. If someone wins a Tour event, he probably can play better than half the Masters field. In 1979 a 27-year-old rookie named Fuzzy Zoeller won the San Diego Open, thus qualifying for the Masters, which he also won. The category was clear-cut: You win, you're in.
In 1998 the Masters cooked up a new category: Anyone in the top 50 in the World Ranking is now invited, but those six uninvited '99 winners, as well as Gogel et al., are not among the 50.
Paul Azinger is, but barely. The golf world cheered when Azinger, having battled cancer, won in Hawaii last month, his first victory since the '93 PGA. The win moved him from the mid-70s in the World Ranking to 44th, but he has since slipped to 47th and thus could fall out of the top 50 before the March 6 cutoff. If Azinger misses out, there will be some red faces among those green jackets.
Relying on the World Ranking is a very un-Augusta stance. A man in London throws a lot of statistics into a computer, which determines who can play in the Masters. Can you imagine anyone telling Clifford Roberts who was eligible to play in his tournament?
Allowing all Tour winners to play in Augusta would increase the field this year to only 98 or so, about 60 players fewer than at any other major. But if Hootie and the boys think 98 is too many, I have a suggestion. (Better sit down for this one, gentlemen.)
Take another look at category 1, which guarantees a lifetime exemption to anyone who wins the tournament. Of the official invitees this year, 29—more than a quarter of the field—fall into this category. True, six of these former champs will not tee it up, but that still leaves 23, some of whom have difficulty climbing the hill on the 1st fairway.