Masters blog: A word from Chairman Payne

Augusta Chairman Billy Payne during his Wednesday press conference at the Masters.

Augusta Chairman Billy Payne during his Wednesday press conference at the Masters.

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5:30 p.m.: The King's Speech: Chairman Payne addresses the media

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Masters is one of the toughest tickets in sports, both for the patrons and the players. We may be seeing more of the former, and less of the latter, in the near future.

Ninety-nine players earned Masters invitations this year, the most since 1966, and more than the green jackets would like to see challenge their course during the first full week of April. Chairman Billy Payne said during his Wednesday press conference that the club will review its qualification policies after this year’s event.

“It is borderline to be able to present the kind of competition that we want to,” Payne said. “(The field) is more than we normally have.”

The Masters starts all players in a single wave off the first tee. Thursday’s competition will begin at 7:40 a.m. with ceremonial first tee shots from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The day’s first threesome will tee off five minutes later. The final group is scheduled for 1:59 p.m., about six hours before sunset. Completing play shouldn’t be a problem with Thursday’s ideal forecast. Inclement weather, not uncommon at the Masters, would cause problems, though.

One reason for this year’s large field? The 10 players that qualified for the Masters solely by winning a PGA Tour event, a higher number than usual.

Augusta National also announced earlier in the week that it would make a “significant” number of daily tickets available through an online lottery. The tickets were made available because of attrition in the ranks of annual badge holders, who have weekly badges that are passed through generations.

Masters tickets are among the most coveted in sports, so Payne anticipates high demand for the tickets. Still, he’s saying there’s a chance.

“It’s not a real good chance, but it’s a chance,” he said.

Other highlights from the Payne press conference:

• When asked if the club would replace the magnolia tree that fell on Magnolia Lane, he joked, “We don’t know yet. 150-year-old Magnolias are in short supply for transplanting.”

• Payne played the new EA Sports video game featuring Augusta National with his grandson, Bo. When asked how he faired, Payne said, “I quit after nine holes. I told him my back was hurting. He was up seven in our match play.”

• Augusta National’s response to Monday night’s storm was swift and comprehensive. “We all were awakened about 3 o’clock in the morning. ... We began assessing the damage immediately; within less than an hour, we had hundreds of people out here, not only assessing, but already beginning the cleanup.”

– Sean Martin

• • •

4:02 p.m.: Place your bets!

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Thursday’s Masters telecast is exciting enough for golf fans, but to add some more intrigue, I lay out some prop bets (including my picks) for you and your friends:

• Longer ceremonial tee shot: Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer

Nicklaus has a 10-year age advantage on the King.

• First birdie: Jonathan Byrd on No. 2

Byrd, who’s playing in the first threesome, ranks 10th on the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring.

• First bogey: Ross Fisher on No. 1

Fisher, also playing in the first threesome, has shot over par in four of six career rounds at Augusta National. He’s shot 76 or higher three times.

• First eagle: Dustin Johnson on No. 2

Johnson, No. 2 on the PGA Tour in par-5 eagles last year, tees off at 8:40 a.m. with Adam Scott and Nick Watney.

• First to post sub-par round: Jonathan Byrd

Byrd is in the first threesome. He ranks 11th on the PGA Tour in the all-important Early Round 1 Scoring Average (68.6).

• First to post a round in the 60s: Brandt Snedeker

Snedeker, playing in the day’s fourth threesome, has three top-10s on the PGA Tour his year. He finished third in the 2008 Masters.

• Low Sean Foley student: Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose, Tiger Woods

Take Rose if it’s a first-round bet. He’s held the first-round lead three times in five Masters appearance. Take Mahan for the long haul, though.

• Low Butch Harmon student: Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney

To make it more interesting, take Mickelson out of the running. Then I recommend Watney. He’s 3-1 against Johnson this year, and beaten him by 13 shots in 16 rounds.

• USA vs. the world (Will there be more American or international players in the top 10): USA

The odds favor the internationals: there are 53 foreign players and 46 Americans in the field this week. I’m going to go with the home team, though.

• Low German: Alex Cejka vs. Martin Kaymer

Cejka has made the cut in two previous Masters appearances, so he’s my pick. Kaymer has missed the cut in his past three starts here.

• Low Englishman: Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood

World No. 1 Martin Kaymer said Donald is his favorite this year. That’s good enough for me.

• Low player with last name beginning with ‘W’: Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Tom Watson, Mike Weir, Lee Westwood, Mark Wilson, Gary Woodland, Tiger Woods, Ian Woosnam.

I’d take Woodland if this was a first-round bet, but I’m taking Nick Watney. He’s won a WGC, hasn’t finished worse than 13th this year and was seventh at last year’s Masters. ‘Nuf said.

• Low player whose last name begins in a vowel: Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Arjun Atwal, Ernie Els, Yuta Ikeda, Trevor Immelman, Ryo Ishikawa, Jose Maria Olazabal, Louis Oosthuizen, Jeff Overton, Peter Uihlein and sometimes Y.E. Yang. (splitting the group into teams A-E-Y and I-O-U also is an option).

Appleby has finished in the top 30 in his past four Masters appearances. I give the edge to Team A-E-Y, too.

• Low Oklahoma State player: Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Peter Uihlein, Bo Van Pelt.

Have to go with Mahan, who has finished in the top 10 in the past two Masters. Fowler and Uihlein are making their debuts. Van Pelt missed the cut in his only other Masters appearance (2005).

• Low Molinari: Francesco

Francesco was 30th at Augusta last year, while Edoardo missed the cut.

• First sandwich to be sold out in media center: Egg salad

It’s 1:30 and they’re already gone. Damn.

– Sean Martin

• • •

2:00 p.m.: Did you know?

We took a look through our handy-dandy Masters media guide and here are a few gems to toss out around the water cooler. We'll bring you more each morning. Try to stump your buddies!

• The oldest player to lead after 18 holes was Jack Nicklaus, 53, in 1993 (he shared the lead).

• The youngest player to lead after 18 holes was Seve Ballesteros, 23 years and 1 day, in 1980. He would win the tournament.

• Leaders to win, by round . . . First round: 15 of 106; Second round: 28 of 93; Third round: 42 of 86.

• The Masters has been decided by a playoff 14 times and in sudden death 8 times (1979, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1990, 2003, 2005, 2009)

• The largest lead after 54 holes was 9 strokes by Tiger Woods in 1997.

• Three players have finished runner-up four times: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf

• The state with the most Masters champions is Texas with 12. They were: Jack Burke, Charles Coody, Ben Crenshaw (2), Jimmy Demaret (3), Ralph Guldahl, Ben Hogan (2) and Byron Nelson (2).

• The best comeback after 54 holes was by Jack Burke in 1956 when he made up 8 strokes.

• The average winning score at the Masters is 279.8 (33 lower, 29 higher, 12 at 280).

• First-year players have won the Masters three times (Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Fuzzy Zoeller).

• In 2009, a Masters record 22 countries were represented in the tournament. A record 55 international players competed at Augusta.

• Jack Nicklaus has made the most cuts at Augusta, with 37. Gary Player is second with 30.

• There are only 3 double-eagles in the history of the Masters (Bruce Devlin in 1967; Jeff Maggert in 1994; Gene Sarazen in 1935)

• Jack Nicklaus has the most career rounds under 70 at Augusta with 39.

- Nick Masuda

• • •

1:55 p.m.: Augusta National embraces technology - to a limit

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Don't look for massive videoboards or electronic scoreboards at the Masters. At least, not as long as Billy Payne is chairman.

The Masters is featured in EA Sports' latest edition of the popular "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" franchise. Upgrades to the club's website gives fans the feel of standing behind the ropes at Augusta National. But Payne said Wednesday there's a limit to how much technology the club will embrace.

"We already have cutting edge technology. But most of it's buried under ground," Payne said during his annual address, the day before the tournament starts.

Payne also says the field is close to reaching its limit, with 99 players this year. That's the most since 1966, and the club will review qualifying procedures after seeing how this year's tournament goes.

-Associated Press

•••

9:45 a.m.: Fun facts about the World Golf Rankings

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s been 25 years since the Official World Golf Ranking was unveiled. In honor of that anniversary, here are some ranking-related fun facts for your enjoyment:

• The Masters winner has entered the week with an average Official World Golf Ranking of 15.6.

• Sixteen of the past 25 Masters winners entered the week ranked in the top 10, and 11 of the 25 were ranked in the top 5. Only seven of the 25 winners since 1986 have been ranked outside the top 15.

• The No. 1-ranked player has won the Masters four times, but not since 2002 (Ian Woosnam, 1991; Fred Couples, 1992; Tiger Woods, 2001; Tiger Woods, 2002).

• Tiger Woods has been No. 1 for just two of his four Masters victories. He was ranked 13th when he won the 1997 Masters. He was second in 2005.

• Only seven players ranked outside the top 15 have won since 1986, but three have done so since 2007 (No. 56 Zach Johnson; No. 29 Trevor Immelman; No. 69 Angel Cabrera). Johnson and Cabrera are the worst-ranked players to win at Augusta National.

Of the seven players outside the top 15 that have won, four were ranked between Nos. 33-36. Y.E. Yang, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson and Ben Crane are in those positions this year.

• No player ranked between 15 and 28 has ever won the Masters. Notable players ranked in that range this year include Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Retief Goosen, Martin Laird, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose.

• The Official World Golf Ranking is an average of points earned per start. Martin Kaymer is the first No. 1 to average fewer than eight points per start. Five players – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood – have a chance to overtake Kaymer this week.

• Woods earned $486,000 for his 1997 Masters victory. Mickelson earned 2.8 times that for winning last year ($1,350,000).

• Only seven Masters winners since 1986 have been ranked outside the top 15. Four of those players ranked between Nos. 33-36. This year, Y.E. Yang, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson and Ben Crane are ranked Nos. 33-36.

- Sean Martin

•••

8:55 a.m.: Weather outlook is beautiful

It was a brisk morning at Augusta National on Wednesday, with temperatures dropping into the 30s in the early morning, which led to some patchy fog on some corners of the course.

The forecast calls for a slow warm-up today, but full sunshine and minimal winds will greet the Masters Par 3 participants and fans this afternoon.

Temperatures will reach the low 70s by late afternoon.

The extended forecast calls for increasing temperatures and humidity, with the high for the first round on Thursday at 78 degrees. It will move into the 80s Friday through Sunday, with Masters Sunday calling for a high of 88 with winds reaching as high as 20 mph.

There are slight chances of a thunderstorm on Friday and Saturday, with a disturbance rolling in well north of Augusta.

- Nick Masuda

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