BY GENE SAPAKOFF

gsapakoff@postandcourier.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Billy Payne during his annual “State of the Masters” news conference today announced a major change in tournament cut policy beginning this week.

The new Friday cut is the top 50 players in the field and ties, plus those within 10 shots of the leader.

The Masters cut had been 44 since 1962.

“We believe offering more playing opportunities for the participants over the weekend is a positive for everyone involved,” said Payne, “for the world’s best players wishing to compete over four rounds, for our patrons enjoying the tournament here on site and for those golf fans watching at home through our expansive worldwide television broadcast and our continually improving digital platforms.”

Repeat topics in Payne’s presser:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina business executive Darla Moore, the first women added to the ultra-exclusive Augusta membership.

The club’s stance on anchored putting, an ongoing golf controversy.

Payne was asked why it took so long to add female members.

“You know, I think that question gets into the process that we took and the time that we took and other than to say that it took … It went about the same process and the same amount of time as any other member,” he said. “Beyond that, I wouldn’t want any comment on that.”

Anchored putting involves leaning, or “anchoring,” an extra-long shafted putter against the body while putting. Two prominent organizations, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, have proposed banning the practice by 2016.

“We are not a governing body,” Payne said. “We are a golf club that puts on a tournament, so we wouldn’t be presumptuous to say that we have that kind of influence.”

Payne added that Augusta National supports “common ground” on anchoring and “one set of rules.”

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.