There is more than just prize money at stake this week for a number of European Tour members competing on the global stage with the world’s top 50 earning an invite to the Masters Tournament.
The top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking at the conclusion of this week’s tournaments will receive an invitation to the first Major Championship of the year, leaving several players with work to do to secure their trip to Augusta National.
Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, who last year became the youngest player in Masters history to make the cut when he made his debut as a 16 year old at Augusta, currently lies 55th in the world and needs to finish in the top ten at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the US PGA Tour to guarantee a return to the iconic, azalea-lined course.
Manassero has made magnificent progress since bursting onto world golf’s radar at The 2009 Open Championship, where he won the silver medal for the best performance by an amateur. He had yet to join the paid ranks when he showed he could mix it with the game’s big guns at Augusta, his tied 36th finish the best performance by a European amateur for 73 years.
Since then he has added his first European Tour title – the 2010 Castello Masters Costa Azahar – to his already impressive CV, and has shown he can win against the game’s biggest stars, evidenced by the way he beat World Number Ten Steve Stricker in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Sixty-fourth placed Thomas Björn needed to win the Open de Andalucia de Golf by Turkish Airlines to qualify for the Masters but has had to withdraw from the tournament.
The European Tour’s latest champion, Rafaël Jacquelin, jumped 32 places with his win at the Sicilian Open, but even another win in Andalucia is not enough for him to make the all-important top 50.
The top four in the world will all be eagerly anticipating the first Major of 2011, with World Number One and reigning Race to Dubai champion Martin Kaymer and World Number Two Lee Westwood, who was runner-up to Phil Mickelson 12 months ago after a thrilling battle, leading the way.
Luke Donald, who climbed to World Number Three with his win in the WGC – Accenture Match Play, will be making his seventh appearance in the Masters, his best finish to date being his third place on his debut in 2005.
And Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, the current World Number Four, will attempt to land his second Major on American soil following his US Open victory last year.