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More exemptions for Open announced

Two years after Paul Lawrie and Jean Van de Velde came through final qualifying to contest a play-off, along with Justin Leonard, for the Open, more European and American Tour players are to receive exemptions for this year's championship at Royal Lytham.

One event on each side of the Atlantic will effectively become an Open qualifier, with eight places available for those not already exempt at both the Western Open in Chicago at the beginning of July and the following week's tournament at Loch Lomond.

In addition, the number of players qualifying through the "current form" Order of Merits that run for two months prior to the Open on both Tours has been increased from five to seven.

"Our intention is to give more emphasis to players who are in form close to the Open," said David Hill, the championship secretary for the Royal and Ancient. "We believe these measures will strengthen the field and make it easier for more middle-ranking American players to play in the Open." The R & A considered introducing a US qualifier after recognising that for younger Americans or those still trying to secure their Tour cards the prospect of coming over to try and qualify but failing to do so is not an attractive one.

The changes are also in part due to the European Tour's decision to move the Loch Lomond tournament, which after the loss of its sponsor is shortly to be confirmed as the resurrected Scottish Open, back to a Sunday finish. The tournament prior to the Open previously always ended on the Saturday with final qualifying taking place on Sunday and Monday.

Paul Lawrie - One of the very few qualifiers to ever win the Open. Allsport.

With the R & A unable to move the qualifying a day later, and unwilling to take it out of Open week, there was the prospect of mass withdrawals at Loch Lomond by unexempt players not high up the leaderboard and even the possibility of some deliberately missing the cut.

Instead, the number of places available from final qualifying will be reduced from around 48 to around 36, although the percentage chance of getting through will remain roughly the same with the starting fields at the four venues decreased from 120 to under 100. Where the odds will lengthen dramatically is for the club pros, assistants and amateurs, who made up the bulk of last year's record entry of 2,460, in regional qualifying.

Meanwhile, the US Open will come into line with other major championships in exempting the world's top 50 players.

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