More players to make Masters cut

Halfway cut extended to top 50 and ties

Rory McIlroy hits from a bunker  during a practice round for the Masters. The Augusta National chairman has announced changes to the tournament system for the first time in 50 years.  Photograph:  Brian Snyder/Reuters

Rory McIlroy hits from a bunker during a practice round for the Masters. The Augusta National chairman has announced changes to the tournament system for the first time in 50 years. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Wed, Apr 10, 2013, 18:38

More players will make the halfway cut in the Masters this year after Augusta National chairman Billy Payne announced changes to the system used for 50 years.

Since 1962, the top 44 players and those tied for 44th after 36 holes have made the cut, but that will be increased to 50 and ties this week. Any player within 10 shots of the lead will also still qualify.

With more players qualifying for the Masters by winning PGA Tour events, Payne also announced that only the top 12 from this year will earn invitations to return to Augusta next year — down from the current 16.

And only the top four from the 2013 US Open will earn invites instead of the current top eight.

Meanwhile, Payne neatly sidestepped the three most controversial issues in golf in his pre-tournament press conference.

On the proposed ban on anchored putters, Payne would only say that he hoped “common ground” would be found so that golf could continue under one set of rules.

On the Royal & Ancient Club following Augusta’s lead and allowing women members, he said that “others should do what they want to do”, and on former champion Vijay Singh’s participation – despite admitting he had used a deer antler spray which has previously been found to contain a banned growth hormone – Payne said the club were following the rules of the World Golf Foundation’s anti-doping policy.

Earlier this year, the PGA Tour came out against the proposed ban on anchored putters which is due to come into effect in 2016, joining the PGA of America in opposing the move. The European Tour then announced its support for the proposals put forward by the game’s governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, but Payne took a diplomatic stance advocated by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Rory McIlroy.

“Given the fact that the ruling bodies have not yet declared a decision . . . I do not think it would be appropriate for us to express an opinion, other than to say that we hope and believe that they can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules,” he said.

When announcing the PGA Tour’s stance, commissioner Tim Finchem said there was an “absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring”, suggesting there was no need for a ban. And although he did not specify what would happen if the ban comes into force, there would be a real danger of different rules being applied at different events.

The PGA Tour runs the lucrative American circuit and plays a dominant role in staging World Golf Championship events. Traditionally they adopt the rules of golf as determined by the R&A and USGA, who run the Open Championship and US Open respectively, while the PGA of America organises the USPGA Championship and the United States’ Ryder Cup team.

Payne’s press conference 12 months ago was dominated by questions about Augusta not allowing female members, but that issue was defused by former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore joining the club last August, with Payne describing it as a “joyous occasion”.

The R&A remain men-only and among the courses on the current British Open Championship rota are male-only Muirfield – this year’s venue – Sandwich and Royal Troon. But, asked if the R&A should now admit female members, Payne said today: “That would be their decision. We have chosen to do what we did and I wouldn’t propose to issue an opinion for those other clubs. I think they should do what they want to do and I would not interject the way I feel on the issue.”

As for Singh, who has continued playing while the PGA investigates his admission in a magazine article that he had used the spray, Payne said: “We are supporters of the World Golf Foundation’s anti-doping policy and, under their current rules and regulations, he is currently qualified to participate. We follow those rules so he’s going to participate here.”