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Is Masters field too big? Payne thinks so

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Billy Payne has a funny way of making Masters contestants feel welcome. It was a year ago, remember, that the Augusta National chairman used his State of the Masters Wednesday press conference to single out Tiger Woods and his well-documented series of off-the-course transgressions.

This year, Payne didn't take issue with a single player, but simply the sheer number of them in the field. The subtext of his remarks: There's too many of you here. We don't like it.

The 99 players set to tee off Thursday -- not counting ceremonial starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus -- is the most in the Masters since 1966, when there were 103 players. It is the fourth-highest total ever. The result is that Payne and the tournament committee will be taking a closer look at the qualification process after this year's event.
"There is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and do it in a way that's manageable," Payne said. "The hundred (player field) pushes that limit quite dramatically."

The increased field size is a byproduct of two qualification changes in recent years. In 2006, the Masters was made open to both players who made the Tour Championship AND the top 30 finishers on the money list. Thanks to the FedEx Cup playoffs, those are two different lists. Also in 2007, the Masters returned to the practice of letting in players who had won regular-season PGA Tour events. Don't be surprised if one of those policies is amended.

"We are getting pretty close to the maximum," said Fred Ridley, chairman of the championship committee. "We have an issue with daylight obviously right now."

-- Sam Weinman
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