For the second straight year, four golfers with Georgia ties will make their Masters debuts .
The foursome will join seven other Georgians in the Masters field this April, with the possibility that the number could reach 12 by the time the game’s best players arrive in Augusta.
Georgia’s 2015 “rookie” contingent in the Masters consists of three former Georgia Bulldogs and one ex-Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, with two of the UGA golfers residing in the state, one of whom is among four Georgia natives in the field.
At least six former members of the Georgia golf team will tee it up in the 2015 Masters, seven if you count Patrick Reed and his short but tempestuous stay in Athens before he transferred to Augusta State and led the Jaguars to back-to-back NCAA championships.
Harris English nearly made it seven Bulldogs in the field when he lost in a playoff last month in San Diego, but his close call moved him up to 55th in the World Golf Rankings, and another strong effort or two before the Masters would lift him into the top 50 and a late invitation to compete in Augusta for a second straight year.
English was one of four Georgia rookies in the 2014 Masters, joining Reed, fellow ex-Bulldog Chris Kirk and former Georgia Tech golfer Roberto Castro. Reed and Kirk are back in the field this year, with Castro just trying to get into fields for PGA Tour events after falling from the top 30 in the FedExCup standings in 2013 to outside the top 125 last year.
This year’s Masters rookies include Savannah native Brian Harman, fellow ex-Bulldogs Brendon Todd and Erik Compton, and former Georgia Tech golfer Cameron Tringale.
Rounding out the Georgia contingent in the field are former Masters champions Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and Larry Mize, recent Masters contender Matt Kuchar and Russell Henley, who began the recent string of Georgia Masters rookies in 2013.
Todd and Harman both earned their invitations to the 2015 Masters with victories on the PGA Tour last year. Todd won the Byron Nelscn Championship a month after last year’s Masters, shooting a final round 66 to defeat former Masters champion Mike Weir by two strokes.
The 29-year-old Todd, a 2007 UGA graduate, enjoyed an outstanding 2014 season, finishing the year 27th in the FedExCup standings to make his first appearance in the Tour Championship at East Lake.
Most of Todd’s success last year came in a 6-tournament stretch beginning with his victory in which he recorded five finishes of eighth or better. During that run, he finished 17th in the U.S. Open in his first appearance in a major, playing in the final twosome Saturday and shooting in the 60s three of the four rounds.
Todd, who has settled in Atlanta since graduating from Georgia, was a member of the Bulldogs’ 2005 NCAA championship team and is in his fifth season on the PGA Tour. He has two wins on the Web.com Tour, including a rain-shortened victory in the final Stadion Classic at UGA in 2013, which enabled him to make his full-time return to the PGA Tour last year.
So far this season, Todd’s best finish is a tie for eighth in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Harman is in his fourth season on the PGA Tour, and scored his first win last year in the John Deere Classic. He also shot 66 in the final round to hold off fellow St. Simons Island resident Johnson, who closed with a 64, by one stroke.
The victory earned Harman a spot in the British Open the following week as well as the PGA Championship the next month, and he turned in solid efforts in both events. Harman came close to qualifying for the 2014 Tour Championship, ending up 36th in the FedExCup standings, but is off to a relatively slow start in the 2014-15 season, with a pair of top 20s in Hawaii early this year his best finishes.
Harman, 28, was the No. 1 junior in the country prior to beginning his college career in Athens, and was a Georgia Amateur champion and U.S. Walker Cup team member before his freshman year at Georgia, making a second Walker Cup appearance four years later.
Compton played two years in Athens before turning pro in 2001, and spent most of his career playing primarily on what is now the Web.com Tour with an occasional PGA Tour start on a sponsor’s exemption.
The 35-year-old Compton is a double heart transplant recipient, with the most recent procedure in 2008. Since then, Compton has established himself as more than just a medical marvel, winning a Web.com event in Mexico in 2011 to earn his PGA Tour card for the first time in 2012.
The highlight of his tour career was a tie for second in last year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, one of his three top-5 finishes and his first ever start in a major. His best finish this season is a tie for 10th in the Humana Challenge.
Tringale, 27, went straight from his college career at Georgia Tech to the PGA Tour, making it through Q-school in his first attempt after graduating in 2009. Following a difficult rookie season, Tringale again turned in a strong showing at Q-school to regain his playing privileges, and has been a successful PGA Tour player since, placing 63, 90 and 79 in the FedExCup standings the next three years before his breakthrough season in 2013-14.
A pair of fourth place finishes got Tringale into the Playoffs, and he earned his spot at East Lake with a tie for second in the Barclays, ending the season 20th on the points list to earn his Masters invitation. Tringale has competed in the other three majors, making his professional debut in the 2009 U.S. Open shortly after graduating from Georgia Tech.
In his first seven starts of the 2014-15 season, Tringale had three top-30 finishes and three missed cuts, but teamed up with Jason Day to win the unofficial Shark Shootout in December.
Kirk and Reed return to Augusta after their 2014 debuts. Kirk tied for 20th last year, closing with three straight rounds of par or better, and tied for 19th later in the year in his first appearance in the British Open.
It took Kirk a few years to make it to the PGA Tour after a stellar college career in Athens. He enjoyed an exceptional season in his third year on the Web.com Tour in 2010, and placed between 34th and 49th on the FedExCup points list in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour, winning as a rookie in Mississippi in 2011.
Kirk, who turns 30 a month after the Masters, collected his second victory in the 2013 McGladrey Classic at Sea Island Golf Club, shortly after returning to the Atlanta area to live after residing on St. Simons Island since graduating from Georgia in 2007.
Kirk’s highest profile victory came last year in Boston in a Playoffs event, and he finished the season second on the points list after tying for fourth at East Lake, one of five top-4 finishes in the 2013-14 season. A tie for fourth in the 2014 McGladrey Classic is his best finish so far this season.
Reed has emerged as one of the best of the PGA Tour’s sizeable group of star players in their early and mid-20s, winning four times since his rookie season in 2013. His victories include the WGC event at Doral last year and the Tournament of Champions this season.
The 24-year-old Reed started his college career at UGA, but encountered various problems on and off the course, and transferred to Augusta State after his freshman season. He led the Jaguars to NCAA titles in 2010 and ’11, scoring the clinching victory in the title match against the Bulldogs in 2011.
Reed’s exceptional college career has been overshadowed by recent revelations of his conduct in both Athens and Augusta, and the strained relations between him and his teammates at both schools.
In his brief pro career, Reed has already competed in all four majors, with a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open his best finish. He missed the cut in the 2014 Masters, shooting 79 on Friday after opening with a 73.
Henley will be playing in his third straight Masters, making his Augusta debut in 2013 after winning his first start as a PGA Tour member earlier that year in the Hawaiian Open. Henley added a second victory last year in the Honda Classic, winning a four-man playoff that included Rory McIlroy. He finished the season 19th on the FedExCup points list to earn a spot in the Tour Championship field as well as a third Masters invite.
After closing out the 2014 season with a tie for second behind Kirk in the Playoffs event in Boston, Henley already has finishes of fourth in the McGladrey Classic and third in the Tournament of Champions on the 2014-15 schedule.
Henley, who will turn 26 on Masters Sunday, is a Macon native and won the Georgia Amateur in consecutive years while he was a member of the Georgia golf team. During his outstanding career with the Bulldogs, Henley also won the Web.com Tour Stadion Classic at UGA as an amateur, and captured a pair of Web.com titles as a pro rookie to quickly move up to the PGA Tour.
After missing the cut in his first Masters in 2013, Henley tied for 31st last year, falling back on the weekend after being 1-under after 36 holes.
Watson did not have a college career in Athens comparable to that of Kirk, Todd, Henley and English, but has done pretty well for himself as a professional, winning seven tournaments since 2010 after four winless seasons to start his PGA Tour career.
Two of his victories have come in the 2012 and ’14 Masters, and he also has a tie for fifth in the 2007 U.S. Open and a playoff loss in the 2010 PGA Championship. Overall, however, his major championship record is spotty, with Watson closing the 2011 and ’13 Masters with final rounds of 78 and 77 to drop well down the leader board.
After winning a WGC event in China to close out 2014, Watson has played a light 2015 schedule, tying for 10th in the Tournament of Champions and for second in last month’s Phoenix Open, finishing one shot out of a playoff after a final round 65.
Johnson won the 2007 Masters in difficult conditions, but has not placed better than 20th in Augusta since, missing the cut three times since ’09, including last year. Johnson, who moved to St. Simons after his Masters victory, has 11 career PGA Tour titles since winning the BellSouth Classic as a rookie in 2004, and has qualified for the Tour Championship six of eight times since the FedExCup Playoffs began in 2008.
In his four starts of 2015, Johnson recorded top-10 finishes in the Tournament of Champions and Phoenix Open.
Mize remains competitive in the Masters in the his mid-50s, making the cut last year for the first time since 2009 after three near misses the previous four years. Mize, an Augusta native and long time Columbus resident, is two years away from celebrating the 30th anniversary of his memorable 1987 playoff victory over Greg Norman.
Kuchar will be among the favorites in the Masters after placing fifth, eighth and third at Augusta National the last three years. His best chance of winning came in 2012, when he played holes 12 through 15 in 4-under on Sunday, but bogeyed the 16th and wound up two shots out of the playoff won by Watson.
Since 2010, Kuchar has been arguably the most consistently successful player on the PGA Tour, placing in the top 10 of the FedExCup standings four times and 18th the other year. He has five of his seven PGA Tours win during that span and has averaged just under 10 top-10 finishes per season. Kuchar played his college golf at Georgia Tech and is part of the large contingent of PGA Tour players living on St. Simons Island.
(See Georgians, 14)