Howell, Bryan need big week to get into the Masters

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For the first time, the winner of the Puerto Rico Open could earn a spot in the Masters.

But only if that winner is Wesley Bryan, and even that might not be enough.

This is the final week for players to get into the top 50 in the world and earn invitations to the Masters. Bryan is at No. 73 and still in the picture.

Bryan, who won three times on the Web.com Tour last year, had a solid stretch in the last month, tying for fourth at the Genesis Open and Honda Classic and tying for seventh in the Valspar Championship. He lost an opportunity last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational by finishing 69th and earning no ranking points.

Because he started only a year ago, he has the minimum divisor of 40 tournaments applied to his ranking average. Bryan is playing the Puerto Rico this week, and a victory might be enough to crack the top 50 in the world. Bryan, who grew up in South Carolina, lives in Augusta.

''I figure I might as well tee it up as many times as possible between now and Augusta and try to squeeze my way into the field,'' Bryan said.

The Puerto Rico Open winner does not automatically get into the Masters because it is held opposite the Dell Technologies Match Play, and even if Bryan were to win, what happens at Austin Country Club is likely to have a bearing on his chances.

Six players in the 64-man Match Play field are not yet eligible for the Masters. One of them is Charles Howell III, who was born and raised in Augusta. Howell is at No. 67 this week, and while the World Golf Championship offers big ranking points, everyone around him in the ranking is in the field.

Howell would need to reach the semifinals to have a chance to crack the top 50.

Howell already lost some ground by an unusual set of circumstances. He was virtually a lock to get into another WGC event at the Mexico Championship earlier this month by being in the top 10 in the FedEx Cup through the Honda Classic. The only thing that could keep him out was someone like Rickie Fowler winning the Honda and someone like Gary Woodland finishing second.

Fowler won, Woodland was runner-up and Howell was out of Mexico with no chance to pick up valuable ranking points toward his bid for the Masters.

Ross Fisher got into Mexico through the European Tour and made the most of it. He closed with three straight birdies to tie for third and get into the Match Play, and now at No. 53 in the world, Fisher could lock up a spot in the Masters if he wins his group in round-robin play that ends Friday.

The others at Match Play trying to get into the top 50 are Hideto Tanihara, Thongchai Jaidee, Joost Luiten and K.T. Kim. Tanihara would have to reach the quarterfinals to have a mathematical chance, Thongchai would have to reach the semifinals, and Luiten and Kim would need to reach the championship match or win a consolation match between semifinalists.

No one else in Puerto Rico can reach the top 50 except for Bryan.

The only other chance to get into the field would be to win the Shell Houston Open next week.

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CHAMPIONSHIP SPRINT: Rory McIlroy is among five players who have won the Match Play and been runner-up. Of those five, McIlroy and Hunter Mahan lost during the era of 18-hole championship matches. Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and David Toms had 36-hole championship matches.

McIlroy would like to see it return to that.

With round-robin play the opening three days, the fourth round and quarterfinals are held Saturday, with the semifinals and championship match on Sunday, so there's no longer time for a 36-hole final.

''I think it's too important of a match to just play over 18 holes,'' McIlroy said. ''And I think the best player always wins over 36 holes, no matter what.''

McIlroy lost to Mahan, 2 and 1, at Dove mountain. He defeated Gary Woodland, 4 and 2, at Harding Park.

Paul Casey agrees to an extent. He is a two-time runner-up in this event, losing to Ogilvy in 2009 and Ian Poulter a year later. Casey also won the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England with a 10-and-8 victory over Shaun Micheel. Every round was 36 holes in that event.

''If you've had 18 holes all week as your format and suddenly flip it to 36, that's a difficult one to justify,'' Casey said.

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EVERYTHING BUT A WIN: Stacy Lewis now has gone 67 starts on the LPGA Tour since her last victory in June 2014 at the Northwest Arkansas Championship. Just don't get the idea her game is suffering.

Lewis at the Founders Cup recorded her 12th runner-up finish since her last victory. And she has managed to spread it out over a variety of countries and golf courses. She has been runner-up at 10 tournaments, twice at the Founders Cup and the Yokohama Tire Classic. Her runner-up finishes took place in seven countries.

During that stretch, she has earned $3,729,503, for an average of $55,664 per start.

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TOPGOLF FOR KIDS: Junior golfers from 6 to 17 involved in The First Tee and LPGA-USGA Girls Golf had an afternoon of free games, instruction, food and drinks and Topgolf venues in five cities Sunday. Now, Topgolf is expanding that idea.

Topgolf said it will offer free game play for charitable groups committed to youth leadership and mentorship, and to any high school golf team. That will be available at any Topgolf location on Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., provided sessions are scheduled 72 hours in advance at www.Topgolf.com/giving .

The announcement comes a year after the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Topgolf announced an alliance aimed at creating new fans and making golf more appealing.

''You don't have to play an 18-hole course to enjoy golf,'' said Erik Anderson, Topgolf Entertainment Group co-chairman and CEO. ''Topgolf is always thinking of how we can help get clubs in the hands of new players, prepare them to transition to green grass and inspire them to enjoy golf in all of its forms, whether that's on TV, a mobile app or a PGA Tour event. Part of reaching the next generation of golfers means making the sport fun and accessible to everyone.''

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DIVOTS: The European Tour player of the year award has been renamed the Seve Ballesteros Award. The first winner is Henrik Stenson, voted the European Tour's best player in 2016 for his two victories, including his record performance in the British Open. ... Marc Leishman's victory at Bay Hill moved him to No. 8 in the Presidents Cup standings. The Australian has played in the last two matches, beating Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth in singles. ... Tyrrell Hatton makes his Dell Technologies Match Play debut as the No. 10 seed. He is one of nine players who have never competed in the event.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods in 2008-09 is the last player to be the No. 1 seed in consecutive years at the Dell Technologies Match Play. Since then, seven players (McIlroy twice) have been the top seed.

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FINAL WORD: ''The guy who would win if we had a four-round, stroke-play event, very rarely does that guy win this tournament.'' - Jordan Spieth on Match Play.

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