Masters has 77 eligible players. It's shaping up to be one of the smallest fields

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Matt Kuchar tees off during the final round of the PNC Championship golf tournament Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Kevin Kolczynski)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Masters already has the smallest field of the majors. The 2024 edition could be one of the smallest in years depending on the first three months of the PGA Tour season.

With no significant tournaments the rest of the year, it looks as though 11 players who finish in the top 50 will be added to the field. That would bring the field to 77 players among those expected to compete.

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That includes three players who will be making their Masters debut without ever having won on the PGA Tour or European tour — Adam Schenk, Eric Cole and Denny McCarthy. Schenk qualified by reaching the Tour Championship for the first time.

The 11 expected to get in through top 50 in the world ranking are Ryan Fox, Min Woo Lee, McCarthy, Will Zalatoris, Justin Rose, Harris English, Cole, J.T. Poston, Adrian Meronk, Adam Hadwin and Nicolai Hjogaard.

Four players — Luke List, Erik van Rooyen, Camilo Villegas and Ludvig Aberg — earned invitations by winning PGA Tour events in the fall.

One additional player will be the winner of the Latin American Amateur Championship in January. Otherwise, the pass down Magnolia Lane in April comes from winning a full PGA Tour event — there are 14 of them before the Masters — or being in the top 50 on April 7, the week before the Masters.

There also could be a special invitation for international players who are not PGA Tour regulars.

Augusta National prefers the field to be under 100, a number it last exceeded in 1966 when 103 players were in the field. That would appear to be safe.

Among those narrowly missing out are Chris Kirk (No. 52) and Matt Kuchar (No. 54), the latter who is used to being on the bubble.

“I think I was really close last year, as well,” Kuchar said.

His hopes ended when he lost in the fourth round of the Match Play. The previous year, he was runner-up in the Texas Open when only a win would have gotten him back to Augusta.

Kuchar at least helped himself in the fall by becoming eligible for a pair of $20 million signature events at Pebble Beach and Riviera. So he knows what he has to do. He's just not overly consumed by it.

“I've never been one to think, ‘I need to play well this week because I’m 53rd in the world.' If you didn't tell me where I was in the world ranking, I could not have told you,” Kuchar said. “I've always thought your best chance to play good golf is to just go out and do it, and not because you have to do it.”

TIGER AND THE SWOOSH

Speculation has been swirling about Tiger Woods and his relationship with Nike, which began when he turned pro in 1996.

Woods had no interest in the topic at the PNC Championship, saying only that “I’m still wearing their product,” and sternly repeating the phrase when asked if this was the end of his deal.

He has only played seven times (10 weekend rounds) since his February 2021 car crash. He returned from that wearing FootJoy shoes. Nike put out a statement of support, but 18 months later, he still was only wearing the swoosh on his shirt, not his shoes.

Another different look was his son, 14-year-old Charlie, not wearing a red Nike shirt on Sunday but a purple tone and the logo of Greyson Clothiers, a brand also worn by Justin Thomas.

Is that an NIL deal? It sure looked that way when retired Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald posted on Instagram of Charlie and wrote, “Welcome to the @greysonclotheirs family, Charlie.”

Among golf ambassadors for Greyson are Thomas, Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, Erik van Rooyen, Luke List and Alison Lee on the LPGA Tour.

As for Woods? He likely won’t be at another tournament until the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February.

IS IT A HOBBY?

Kevin Kisner is starting the new year at Kapalua for the sixth time, only this time without his clubs. NBC is going to try him out in the broadcast booth.

Kisner, who likes to say that golf “ain’t no hobby,” will be the lead analyst for NBC at The Sentry, which is held Jan. 4-7. He also will work the WM Phoenix Open.

NBC has been looking to replace Paul Azinger since the Ryder Cup when they couldn’t agree on a contract renewal. Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley of Ireland filled in at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas earlier this month.

Still to be determined is how much golf the 39-year-old Kisner plays. He shut down his tour schedule in the middle of June last year when he was playing poorly and was torn by wanting to be at home more often with his three children in Aiken, South Carolina.

“We think his style will translate well to the viewers at home,” said Tommy Roy, lead producer for NBC’s golf coverage.

BIONDI PASSES ON MASTERS

Fred Biondi already has his bachelor’s degree from Florida. He’ll wait to get his Masters, and that involves a different education.

Biondi won the NCAA individual title last year, making him eligible to play in the Masters as long as he stayed amateur. But the native of Brazil decided to turn pro instead. He was at Q-school for the PGA Tour and tied for 10th.

Because he was No. 1 in the PGA Tour University ranking, Biondi is assured of getting in the first 12 Korn Ferry Tour events.

“The Masters is the pinnacle of golf,” Biondi said. “I sat down with my family and coaches to make a decision just for my own sake. I was ready to turn professional. I got my degree from Florida. It made more sense to turn professional and start a new chapter.”

COGNIZANT STEPS IN

New Jersey-based Cognizant first got heavily involved in golf when it became a corporate partner of The Presidents Cup and a title sponsor for the Founders Cup on the LPGA Tour. Now it is extending itself even more as title sponsor of what for years was the Honda Classic.

The Cognizant Classic will be played from Feb. 29 to March 3 at PGA National, with Chris Kirk as the defending champion. The seven-year deal is through 2030.

It will be the first time since 1980 the south Florida event is not sponsored by a car. In another change, the tournament will be run by the tour's “Championship Management” team.

What doesn't change is the charity. The Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation will continue to be the primary beneficiary.

The tournament dates to 1972 when it was the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. American Motors became the title sponsor in 1981 and Honda took over the following year.

DIVOTS

Raul Pereda has put the Mexican flag back on the PGA Tour. The 27-year-old from Mexico, who played at Jacksonville University, earned one of five cards through Q-school. Mexico did not have anyone with a full card since Abraham Ancer and Carlos Ortiz defected to Saudi-funded LIV Golf in 2022. ... The LPGA Tour says the inaugural Arizona Championship will be held at Seville Golf and Country Club on March 28-31, a course located just southeast of Phoenix. ... British Open champion Brian Harman is playing the Dubai Desert Classic on the European tour. The tournament is two weeks after The Sentry at Kapalua and two weeks before the first $20 million signature event at Pebble Beach. Cameron Young also is playing in Dubai.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Of the five players who earned PGA Tour cards through Q-school, Blaine Hale Jr. is the only one who has never played in a PGA Tour event.

FINAL WORD

“He was a skinny rail of a kid. He wasn't like he is now, built and strong and all that. But he was healthy, had tremendous clubhead speed and a hunger for the game. And you just knew he was going to do more than most.” — Bernhard Langer playing with an 18-year-old Tiger Woods for the first time in the 1994 Johnnie Walker Classic.

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