4 players could miss Match Play in detour to the Masters

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) The road to the Masters isn't what it used to be.

For the last three years, Adam Scott has played at least three tournaments in Florida before heading to the Masters. Upon leaving the Honda Classic this year, he will log more than 19,000 miles before he arrives at Augusta National.

That journey includes a trip home to Australia. It does not include an appearance at the Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas.

Scott is not alone.

Henrik Stenson, who plans to play three times in the month leading to the Masters, has chosen to sit out Match Play for the second straight year. Justin Rose wants to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and because he wants to play the week before the Masters, he is likely to skip the Match Play for the first time.

It's like that for all the top players, courtesy of a PGA Tour schedule that is jam-packed with tournaments that are hard to skip because of the prestige, the money, the golf course or the timing.

It's golf's version of March Madness.

Gary Woodland would love nothing more than to be at Bay Hill, but Match Play suits him. He was runner-up two years ago in San Francisco. And he is a past champion at Innisbrook, his first PGA Tour victory.

And then there's Rickie Fowler.

''I don't know yet,'' he said when asked if he was playing Match Play.

Moving the World Golf Championships event from Doral to Mexico City is not an issue. Fowler said he'd be playing it either way.

''The biggest thing is you want to make sure you're ready to go at Augusta,'' he said. ''Whether that's taking a couple of weeks off ... I like playing the week before the majors. I feel like I've seen that works.''

He has played the Shell Houston Open each of the last three years, so presumably he'll be back this year.

Fowler smiled.

''That's what we're trying to figure out,'' he said.

Fowler drove to Bay Hill last year to tell Arnold Palmer in person that he would not be playing his tournament. He said a big part of that reason was Match Play moving right into the middle of the Florida swing, just two weeks before the Masters.

''One of the hardest things I've ever done,'' Fowler said of his conversation with the King.

It's clear that Fowler will be playing two of the three weeks leading into the Masters. But which one does he leave out? He said he would be at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year, the first one without the beloved tournament host. That leaves the choice between Houston ("I like playing the week before the majors'') or the Match Play ("I don't know yet'').

''I like the golf course. The tribute to Arnie would be awesome,'' Woodland said. ''But unfortunately, it's the schedule. With Augusta that close and Match Play around the corner, it just doesn't work out.''

Jordan Spieth is another past champion of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, only he has decided not to go this year to avoid playing five times in six weeks through the Masters. He finished the West Coast with three straight tournaments, and the Texan has two Lone Star events ahead of Augusta.

Everyone is mixing-and-matching, trying to find the right formula to be ready for the first major of the year.

Dustin Johnson has Mexico, Match Play and Houston. Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama are playing Mexico, Bay Hill and Match Play. Sergio Garcia is only playing the two World Golf Championships.

Scott has one of the lightest schedules, anyway, and this year there are additional circumstances. His wife is pregnant with their second child, and she is in Australia to avoid areas where the Zika virus is prevalent, such as the Bahamas. So after the Mexico Championship, he'll head home to Queensland for a few weeks before returning to the Houston Open and then the Masters.

That means he will not be at Bay Hill or the Match Play, and he isn't about to apologize. Scott has long felt the schedule was too crowded, and not just in March.

''Look, I got to the point where I will not keep everyone happy all the time,'' Scott said. ''There are 42 events. I play not even half that many. I'll have my favorites like everyone else. Things change all the time.''

Scott is a leading proponent of a shorter schedule, but he could only smile when he contemplated what March could look like in a couple of years.

''What do you if you throw The Players Championship back in there?'' he said.

Maddening.

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