Golf: Open increases exemptions

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THE best golfers on the three major PGA tours in the weeks preceding the Open Championship will gain automatic entry to the tournament under new qualifying rules. The Royal and Ancient has created 15 new qualifying exemptions, equally divided among the European, Japanese and US tours.

Last year, Peter Baker, the English golfer, criticised the exemption rules after he was forced to play in a qualifying competition despite his victory in the British Masters a month earlier.

Under the new system, the club will use special money lists which emphasise purses won in several tournaments leading up to the Open. A maximum of five golfers from each tour, excluding those who have already qualified, will get exemptions to help make up the 156-player field.

'The aim is to make exemptions more reflective of current form at the time of the Championship,' the R & A secretary, Michael Bonallack, said. 'For example, if this policy had been in place in recent years, it would have meant that in-form players such as Peter Baker, Ben Crenshaw and Yoshinori Mizumaki would have been exempt.'

The club made room for the exemptions by reducing the number of golfers who qualify by virtue of their finish in the previous year's Open. A finish in the top 15, instead of the top 25, is now required for an automatic invitation for the following year.