Augusta chairman Payne expects Tiger to return soon

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Augusta National chairman Billy Payne believes it will not be long before Tiger Woods returns to competitive action.

Fourteen-time major champion Woods is recovering from a third surgical procedure on his back and has not played tournament golf since August 2015. No timetable has been set for a comeback and he is not playing in this week's Masters.

Payne himself underwent what he called "very major" back surgery last November and therefore has plenty of sympathy for the former world number one's plight.

However, after getting a look at Woods at Tuesday's traditional champions dinner, Payne was optimistic about the younger man's hopes of returning to the PGA Tour in 2016.

"Last night he looked good, he looked better than me," Payne said on Wednesday at his annual news conference.

"I was delighted - he's encouraged, I could tell the fire's building back up in his belly, and I suspect Tiger's going to be back fairly quickly, and I'm looking forward to it."

Payne also discussed potential changes to Augusta's 13th hole, amid concerns over whether the par five still represents a sufficient test with players hitting the ball further than ever.

"As we do every year, and historically forever, we are always looking at options for numerous of our holes," he said. "We create plans, looking into the future when we believe the shot value of certain second shots, principally, has been impacted by how far the ball is now travelling.

"As a consequence, number 13 is one of those holes that we are studying. We have made no decision whatsoever, our plans are under way to be considered and, as I said, that is one of many holes that we now have under consideration."

Asked about the possibility of modifying equipment rules at the Masters, to counter players' increasing length, Payne responded: "As we've stated many times, we retain all options. At the same time, it's not something we would want to do.

"We think there are multiple options where we could somewhat increase the difficulty of the hole [the 13th] and restore the shot values, only one of which deals with extending the length.

"We're in the middle of all of those studies, a lot of arithmetic, a lot of design issues, and we would only resort to equipment as a last resort, because we believe that the governing bodies in golf deal with that very effectively."