watson defies time

TURNBERRY - Tom Watson's heroic attempt to roll back the years at the British Open has persuaded tournament chiefs to consider changing the age limit exemption for former champions.

TURNBERRY - Tom Watson's heroic attempt to roll back the years at the British Open has persuaded tournament chiefs to consider changing the age limit exemption for former champions.

The age limit was reduced from 65 to 60 only two years ago but 59-year-old Watson, who came within one missed putt of winning on Sunday before losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink, made a strong case for allowing ageing greats to keep coming back well into the twilight of their careers.

Watson, a five-time Open champion, would have earned himself a 10-year exemption had he holed his eight-foot par putt on the final green.

But next year's Open at St Andrews will be his 33rd and final appearance unless the rule is changed or he finishes in the top 10 at St Andrews, wins the 2010 British Senior Open or comes through a qualifying event.

"I don't think we contemplated a 59-year-old leading the Open Championship going into the back nine on the final day at the time," Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson said yesterday.

"Every year after the Open we look at the exemptions and no doubt we'll look at this one. It's much too early to say what, if anything, we'll do with it, but we'll certainly be looking at it.

"I'm sure if someone at age 59 had been winning the championship, bringing down the age limit would have been lower on the agenda when the reduction was made.

But we brought it down in order to give more spaces in the championship to younger players, allegedly in their prime, to compete."

What is almost certain not to happen is the Royal and Ancient falling in line with the bodies that run the other three majors. Augusta National for The Masters, the US Golf Association for the US Open and the Professional Golfers' Association of America for the US PGA issue special invitations from time to time. - Sapa-AFP

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