Billy Payne: No major changes

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The rules controversy that dominated the 2013 Masters while putting Tiger Woods at the center of the debate has not led to significant changes this year, according to Augusta National club chairman Billy Payne.

In his annual media address on the eve of the tournament, Payne was asked about the rules issues that plagued the event last year, although Woods' improper drop on the 15th hole of the second round that led to a 2-stroke penalty was not specifically mentioned.

"The issue that you're addressing, I think that we made the right decision," Payne said. "I believe that the golf world has affirmed that. I know that some of you disagree with the decision. Nevertheless, I think it is important that we communicate quickly with people, as we have a serious matter under deliberation, and we're going to do that."

Woods faced disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard, but the Masters rules committee decided to invoke Rule 33-7, which allows a scorecard DQ to be rescinded if there is a belief that the committee made an error. In this instance, Masters officials received calls from television viewers who believed Woods may have taken an improper drop.

After reviewing video, officials, led by rules chairman Fred Ridley, decided there was no penalty and did not discuss the information with Woods, letting him sign his scorecard. It was only later, after Woods had commented on the drop, that they decided there may have been a mistake.

But because they didn't speak with Woods about the information they had, the committee cited the little-used rule for not disqualifying him. Woods went on to tie for fourth, 4 shots behind winner Adam Scott.

About a month after the Masters, the USGA and R&A released a three-page detailed report explaining the ruling and backing up Augusta National's actions. Among the criticisms Augusta National received was not having a rules official with every group, as is standard practice at the other major championships.

That would require 33 rules officials for the first two rounds, and even though the Masters has nearly double that number for the tournament, Payne said a change has not been made this year.

"We have approximately 60 officials on the course, significantly more than any other tournament," he said. "We think we do it pretty good with the familiarity they acquire for the specific holes, some with as many as six officials on it. So we think the way do it is pretty good, which is not to say that we would never consider a change. But we kind of like the way we do it now."

Among the other topics covered by Payne in his news conference:

• The first Drive, Putt and Chip National Championship, which was conducted Sunday and was considered a big success. The plan is to expand the qualifying system to all 50 states for 2015, with the expectation that roughly 50,000 kids will try to make it to Augusta National for next year's competition.

• The Royal & Ancient's announcement last month that it would vote later this year to admit its first female members. Nearly two years ago, Augusta National, under Payne's direction, admitted its first two women. "I'm proud to be a member of the R&A, and I bet you can guess how I'm going to vote," Payne said. "Other than that, I would respect their process, their requirement to conduct a vote, and so the process will culminate in a decision, and as I've said, I know where one vote is going to be cast."

• The February ice storm that inflicted significant damage to the course and necessitated the removal of the iconic Eisenhower Tree from the 17th hole. Payne called the storm "catastrophic" and said Augusta National had to do much work in the aftermath. Many of the trees on the course are visibly thinner than in the past. "There are some areas that as soon as this summer will have some significant, immediate planning, others that will take longer, either because we're going to wait and see, or we can't find specimens large enough to really make the difference," Payne said. "But we still think it's beautiful.

"We do not yet have a definitive plan as to what, if anything, we will do to the 17th hole beyond this year's tournament," he said when asked about replacing the Eisenhower Tree."We are closely examining play and scoring on the hole this week, and will make a decision after careful observation and consideration."