AUGUSTA, Ga. — In his annual pre-Masters address, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne described his club as a “beacon in the golf world,” then spoke publicly for the first time about Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, the first two women admitted as members, a move the club announced last August.
“At the time, we described that welcoming Condi and Darla as members of Augusta National represented a joyous occasion for the club,” Payne said, referring to a statement he issued upon the decision last August. “This week, that’s truer than ever. . . . It’s just awesome.”
Payne, though, said Augusta National would not try to lead other all-male clubs to broaden their membership.
“That would be their decision,” Payne said. “We have chosen to do what we did, and I wouldn’t propose to issue an opinion for those other clubs.”
Payne also would not elaborate on his own feelings on the issue, nor would he discuss the nature of the club’s internal debate.
“It went about the same process and the same amount of time as any other member,” Payne said. “Beyond that, I wouldn’t have any comment.”
Both Rice, the former Secretary of State, and Moore, a prominent South Carolina businesswoman, are on hand to help with the tournament, each wearing her new green jacket.
Rory McIlroy won the most recent major, last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah. Since then, he has switched to Nike clubs, struggled some, and lost his No. 1 ranking in the world to Tiger Woods. But after finishing second last week in San Antonio, McIlroy arrives here again confident in his swing – and fully two years removed from his collapse in 2011, when he lost a four-stroke lead entering the final round, shooting 80.
“Of course, all the demons are gone,” McIlroy said. “They were gone as soon as I got off the 19th green.” . . .
Payne also announced some tweaks to the qualifying process for the Masters, beginning with next year’s tournament – changes brought about by the PGA Tour’s restructured schedule. The Masters has long had a policy of admitting winners of tour events that award full points in the tour’s season-long FedEx Cup standings.
Previously, events that followed the Tour Championship awarded only partial points, and winners of those events didn’t gain entry to the Masters. Now, with the 2013-14 season beginning immediately after this September’s Tour Championship, those fall events will be full-point tournaments, and winners will gain entry to the Masters.
Because Augusta National wants to keep Masters fields at relatively the same size – there are 93 competitors this year – it cut down other ways players can gain entry. The top 12 finishers in this year’s Masters will be invited back, down from the top 16. The top four finishers in this year’s U.S. Open will gain entry, down from the top eight. No longer will a player who finishes in the top 30 on the PGA Tour’s year-end money list earn an invitation.
The Masters will also increase the 36-hole cut, beginning this year, to the top 50 players and ties – up from the top 44 and ties – as well as keeping anyone within 10 shots of the lead. . . .
Ted Potter Jr. won the Par-3 Contest at Augusta National, prevaling on the second playoff hole over Matt Kuchar. Phil Mickelson was eliminated on the first extra hole. No Par-3 winner has ever won the Masters the same year.