Masters changes on 36-hole cut, qualifications, no comment on anchored putting

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne spoke with the media Wednesday afternoon ahead of the start of the Masters. (Morry Gash/AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Billy Payne, the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, announced changes Wednesday concerning the 36-hole cut for the Masters and eligibility criteria for the tournament. He steered clear of taking a position on whether anchored putting should be banned.

At his annual press conference, Payne said the 36-hole cut had been expanded from the low 44 players to the low 50. Anyone within 10 strokes of the leader would continue to be included.

Payne said every player who wins a PGA Tour event that offers full FedExCup points will continue to receive an invitation to play in the Masters. This year, that will include tour events in the fall that previously had not offered full points – nor a free pass to Augusta National.

Given the expected additions to the field, Payne announced qualifying restrictions in other areas. The top 12 finishers at this year’s Masters are exempt for next year rather than the top 16, and the top four in the U.S. Open standings will be eligible for 2014 rather than the top eight.

Payne said the Masters no longer would consider the top 30 finishers on the previous year’s PGA Tour money list if not already exempt.

Payne said the attempt to control the field is in keeping with the desire of club co-founder Bobby Jones “to keep the Masters an intimate gathering of the world’s best competitors and to afford all players a reasonable expectation of completion in the reduced hours of sunlight in early spring.”

The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews have proposed eliminating anchored putting – the practice of securing the putter against the body. But during a recent three-month comment period, the PGA Tour announced its opposition to the ban.

Payne said that because a final ruling has not been handed down, he did not want to offer an opinion on anchored putting. He added, however, that he hoped the governing bodies “can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules.”

Payne also praised the addition of Augusta National’s first two women members – former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore, calling it “rewarding and enjoyable” and later, “awesome.”

It’s a change from press conferences in previous years when Payne received repeated questions about the lack of female membership at the club, and responded that he wouldn’t comment on club matters.

--Joe Juliano