Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Pro Sports

April 11, 2013

Woods favored, but challengers aplenty at Augusta

(Continued)

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne held his annual "State of the Masters" news conference on Wednesday, where of course the subject turned to the club's first female members, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.

"I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as members of our club, has been every bit as enjoyable for them over the last eight months as it has been for their fellow members," Payne said. "It's just awesome."

While Augusta National had long resisted female members, with a former chairman famously declaring the club wouldn't change its all-male membership "at the point of a bayonet," Payne said his membership was now eager to lead the sport into a new era.

"What we've done is do what we're supposed do," he said, "and that is to be a beacon in the world of golf and do our best to influence others to want to be a part of it."

While claiming to look forward, Augusta National is about tradition more than anything.

That was never more apparent than during the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday, a chance for the sport to embrace its past and give the players an opportunity to unwind before the shots that really count.

Everyone from moms to small children — some barely old enough to walk — took on caddying duties. The greats of the game, long past their prime, thrilled the patrons with a few more swings. Technically, they kept score, but everyone knew it was all for fun. No need to get worked up about these nine holes. That's for Thursday, after everyone moves over to "the big course."

"It's a good way to unwind before the stress of the tournament starts," Brandt Snedeker said. "This is a great way to relax and spend time with your family."

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