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Majority of 2007 Masters field set

At a time when mail boxes are stuffed with holiday cards, bills
and the usual batch of junk mail, 17 players might want to be very
careful about throwing away unopened letters the next few weeks.

One of them could be an invitation to the Masters.

The majority of the field for the 71st Masters was set on Monday
when the final world ranking of the year was published. The top 50
at the end of 2006 are eligible, and Bradley Dredge of Wales got
the final spot by one-hundredth of a point over Justin Rose.

The list includes 17 players who will be competing for the first
time at Augusta National, including Ryder Cup players J.J. Henry,
Brett Wetterich and Robert Karlsson of Sweden.

The Masters will be held April 5-8. Phil Mickelson is the
defending champion.

The field will include two Singhs for the first time -- Vijay
Singh, the 2000 champion, and Jeev Milkha Singh, who won the
season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama on the European Tour and
is No. 37 in the world.

Jeev Singh also is the first player from India to get a Masters
invitation, while Camilo Villegas will be the second player from
Colombia; Miguel Salas competed from 1961 to 1964, making the cut
once.

Masters invitations are expected to go in the mail this week,
only it doesn't look like anything special. Charles Howell III, who
grew up in Augusta, once recalled getting his letter and almost
throwing it away.

"It's a plain, normal, white envelope," Howell said. "Doesn't
say Augusta National, no return address."

Howell would love to get a letter now.

Criteria for the Masters range from major champions over the
last five years to top finishes in the other three majors, although
the bulk of players comes from the PGA Tour money list (top 40) and
the world ranking (top 50).

Howell was No. 52 on the PGA Tour money list and is danger of
missing the Masters for the first time since 2001, his rookie
season on the PGA Tour. He is No. 82 in the world ranking.

There is still hope for him and players such as Rose and former
Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman. The field is not set until the
spring, the Monday after the World Golf Championship at Doral.
Augusta National will issue invitations to the top 50 in the world
and the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list that are published March
26.

The Masters also can issue special invitations to international
players.

Rose got married last week and did not play, and a slight change
in the points pushed Dredge ahead of him. Lee Westwood needed to
finish 12th or higher in the South African Open last weekend, and
his tie for eighth was enough to assure he would stay in the top 50
by the end of the year. He was at No. 49.

Of the 16 players who qualified Monday through the world
ranking, Ben Crane (No. 41) was the only American.

It was not clear how many players were expected to compete at
the Masters because Augusta National was waiting to hear from past
champions, who are exempt for life. Charles Coody said last year he
would not play again, and three-time winner Nick Faldo said this
year he would not play because of his new job as the CBS Sports
golf analyst.