By DOUG FERGUSON
2014-03-26 03:01 AM
ORLANDO, Florida (AP) -- The Texas Open is the last chance for players to crack the top 50 in the world ranking and earn a spot in the Masters.
The drama is lacking this year.
Richard Sterne is No. 53 and George Coetzee is No. 55 -- except they're not in the field at San Antonio. The only players at the Valero Texas Open who can move into the top 50 are Chesson Hadley (No. 56) and Ryan Palmer (No. 62). Everyone else who could make it to the top 50 would have to win -- and that's an automatic invitation, anyway.
Without any movement, Stephen Gallacher of Scotland (who won Dubai) is the only player who will have moved into the top 50 since the end of last year.
Augusta National began relying on the world ranking in 2000, only it was slightly different. The top 50 at the end of the preceding year received invitations, along with the top 50 a month before the Masters. Starting in 2003, the final cutoff was moved to one week before the Masters.
The club has never said why it takes the top 50 at the end of a calendar year. Perhaps it's so players can make travel arrangements, or perhaps it was to give an advantage to overseas players, who compete deep into the year. PGA Tour members have more avenues to qualify throughout the season.
But imagine what would happen if there was only one cutoff for the top 50 in the world, and it followed the Florida swing.
Matteo Manassero (51), Branden Grace (57), David Lynn (65) and Peter Hanson (70) all were in the top 50 in December. They would have spent the Florida swing trying to stay in the top 50 or move back in. That change might be something for Augusta National to consider if it feels the field is getting too close to 100 players.
As it is, the Masters virtually is assured of having fewer than 100 players for the 48th straight year. But just barely.
FURYK FOUNDATION: Jim Furyk never minded showing up for a charity event, especially if another athlete asked him.
Furyk said he had a harder time asking others to help him. Nevertheless, he assembled quite a crew last weekend for the fourth "Furyk & Friends Concert and Celebrity Golf Classic at Sawgrass Country Club.
He raised $450,000 at last count for the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation, which serves needy children and families in the Jacksonville area. The event now has raised over $1.2 million since it began in 2011.
Among those who participated were Reggie Jackson, Lynn Swann and Jerome Bettis, along with golfers Davis Love III, Zach Johnson and Justin Leonard.
THE APPLE DIDN'T FALL FAR: Few players are as confident as Ian Poulter. Geoff Ogilvy once told about playing with Poulter for the first time with Justin Rose and Rose's brother, right after Poulter had earned his European Tour card. He said Poulter talked about how he would win in Europe as a rookie and eventually move onto the PGA Tour and all the big events. "He couldn't even beat Justin's brother that day," Ogilvy said.
Sure enough, Poulter won the Italian Open as a rookie. He reached as high as No. 5 in the world and has become Europe's best performer in the Ryder Cup.
Sunday at Bay Hill, he was on the putting green as his 9-year-old son, Luke, watched him from the side. Someone turned to Poulter's son and playfully said, "Luke, how long until you're out here?" The boy didn't blink.
"Two years," he said.
Poulter heard the conversation and burst into laughter, telling his son, "Luke, don't you change."
GMAC AND MAHAN: Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan have been paired twice in the last month -- the third round of the Match Play Championship, and the third round at Bay Hill. They mainly are linked by the final match of the 2010 Ryder Cup, which McDowell won to clinch victory for Europe.
But they go even further back than that.
McDowell was asked Saturday if he had even blown a big lead, and he could only think of the NCAA Championship in 2002 on the Scarlett Course at Ohio State. He won six tournaments his last year at Alabama-Birmingham. Playing only for the individual medal, he had a one-shot lead over Mahan, the best from Oklahoma State.
"I threw up all over myself in the last round," McDowell said. "We were individuals because we played so well, but our team was well back. That was the first time I played with him. We're playing together a bit more lately. He's a great player. I enjoy playing with him. I love the way he hits it."
McDowell closed with a 74 that day in Ohio. Mahan had a 72. Both were overtaken by Troy Matteson, who won the NCAA title with a 67.
Mahan's memory wasn't as clear.
"I don't remember much about that that," Mahan said. "But I knew about Graeme because he was winning all these tournaments. And it's kind of unusual to get some Irish kid at Alabama-Birmingham."
MOLINARI MOVEMENT: Francesco Molinari of Italy tied for fifth at Bay Hill, leaving him 39 points (FedEx Cup) away from being able to take up special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. That would allow him unlimited exemptions the rest of the year.
Molinari would need to be at least equal to No. 125 -- either FedEx Cup points or money -- after the Wyndham Championship, which would make him eligible for a PGA Tour card next season. But that assumes he wants to play more in America.
He has been one of the few European players from the top 50 who has not shown an inclination to be a PGA Tour member. The other is Paul Lawrie. Molinari had a chance a few years ago when he tied for third at Doral, but he chose to stay in Europe.
"It was not great timing," he said. "We had just moved to London and my son was born."
"You never know," Molinari said before going into the weekend at Bay Hill. "The best players in the world are playing here, and you want to challenge yourself."
Molinari won the HSBC Champions in its first year as a World Golf Championship in 2010, but the PGA Tour did not treat it as a regular WGC (complete with official money and a three-year exemption) until last year.
DIVOTS: Nick Watney returns to work next week in the Shell Houston Open, his first tournament as a father. His wife, Amber, gave birth to their first child the day after the Cadillac Championship. They named their daughter Harper. ... Karrie Webb has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour (including a major) since her 2005 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 39-year-old Australian won in Phoenix for her 41st career LPGA title. "I probably celebrate those wins a lot more than I used to," she said. ... Poppy Hills is open again. The course that once was part of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am reopened last week after an overhaul by original architect Robert Trent Jones II. Even though Poppy has been replaced by Monterey Peninsula at the AT&T, it will be part of the rotation for the First Tee Open on the Champions Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Major champions played in the final group in three of the four PGA Tour events on the Florida swing -- Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic, Jason Dufner at Doral and Adam Scott at Bay Hill. None went on to win.
FINAL WORD: "Arnold Palmer was on 16 and he gave me the thumbs-up. It's kind of hard to hit a shot when you're in contention and he's looking at you." -- Erik Compton, who tied for fifth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.