Why this week is crucial for Rickie Fowler’s 2021 Masters hopes

It’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Masters. Some countdowns began in April 2020, others shortly after Dustin Johnson’s tearful green jacket ceremony in November. In either case, if golf’s return to Augusta National for the second week in April 2021 has crossed your mind, you’re not alone.

Now, yes, we’ve still got five months to wait, and yes, five months is an eternity (perhaps even several eternities) in golf. But rest assured, it isn’t too early to start thinking about next year’s Masters, particularly if you’re among those hoping to participate in the tournament.

Rickie Fowler surely has the Masters on his mind, but perhaps not for the same reasons you do. It’s getting late early for Rickie, whose eligibility for next year’s tournament remains in flux heading into the final few tournaments of 2020.

Fowler, like most of the field, isn’t the beneficiary of a major championship exemption and has to earn his way into the Masters field. In past years, that hasn’t been an issue. Rickie has comfortably skated into Augusta National behind the weight of his Official World Golf Ranking, his major championship finishes, his PGA Tour victories, or any number of other exemptions.

But heading into this week’s Mayakoba Classic, Fowler is in uncharted territory. After a string of disappointing finishes, golf’s most vibrant star has seen his OWGR ranking plummet, bringing his Masters chances into real question in 2021.

Here’s where things stand:

  • Fowler ranks 49th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
  • The top 50 players in the world as of January 1st are guaranteed an invite to the 2021 Masters.
  • The Mayakoba Classic, the penultimate PGA Tour event of 2020, will likely be the final start for many pros.
  • Fowler (No. 49), along with Kevin Streelman (No. 52), Chez Reavie (No. 54) and Corey Conners (No. 55) are among those in the field at this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic

The easiest outcome for Rickie is to simply post a strong showing at the Mayakoba. A top 10 (and perhaps even top 20) finish would likely be enough to cement his standing among the OWGR top 50 and an invite to Augusta next April.

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But things could get complicated quickly. If this week ends poorly for Rickie, he could drop out of the top 50, which would leave him on the outside of the tournament field looking in heading into 2021. While Fowler can still earn a spot next year, the Masters qualification window narrows significantly after January 1.

If Fowler isn’t in the OWGR top 50 on January 1, he’s left with only two options to earn a spot into the Masters. He can either 1) play his way back into the OWGR top 50 before the Masters begins in April or 2) win a PGA Tour event between January and April.

Of course, neither event is out of the realm of possibility for a golfer of Rickie’s stature. He’s certainly got enough upside to pull a feat like that off, and for someone who’s 22 months removed from his last win, we’re betting team Fowler is hoping to remove all doubt with a strong performance this weekend.

And for the rest of us who can’t stop dreaming about Augusta National in April, Rickie provides more than just a good reason to pay attention to this week in Mexico. He leaves us with a reminder of one of golf’s central tenets: it’s never too early to be thinking about the Masters.

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James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.