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15 players get first time invite to Masters

Rich Beem, who beat Tiger Woods to win the U.S. PGA Championship in August, is one of 15 golfers invited to participate in next year's Masters Tournament for the first time.

Ninety-six players have been invited to play in the year's first major tournament, which will be held April 10-13 at the Augusta National Golf Club. The list includes five amateurs and a record 39 players from outside the U.S. The previous record for non-U.S. players in the initial list of invitees was 37, set in each of the past two years.

Beem, who had one victory on the U.S. PGA Tour going into 2002, won consecutive starts during the summer, including the PGA Championship for his first major title. He held off two-time defending Masters champion Woods, the world's top-ranked golfer, with a final-round 4-under-par 68 that gave him a one-stroke win in the year's final major.

The other first-time invitees are Ricky Barnes, Jonathan Byrd, K.J. Choi, Alejandro Larrazabal, Thomas Levet, Peter Lonard, Hunter Mahan, Ryan Moore, Pat Perez, Chris Riley, John Rollins, Justin Rose, Phil Tataurangi and George Zahringer.

If a player hasn't previously qualified, he can get an invitation into the Masters field by winning the U.S. Players Championship in March, finishing in the top 10 of the U.S. tour's money list or in the top 50 of the world rankings by the week before the Masters. The Masters committee can invite other non- U.S. players who haven't otherwise qualified, the club said in a press release.

Augusta National has been under pressure from women's groups to invite the club's first female member, a move club Chairman William ``Hootie'' Johnson has said won't happen before April. The U.S. tour said it wouldn't end its association with the Masters, which is organized by the club and isn't sponsored by the tour.

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