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Second highest ever entry into Open

Next month’s Open Championship at Muirfield has attracted an entry of 2250 - equal to Royal Lytham last year and the second highest on record behind the 2480 for St Andrews in 2000.

Included are the top 50 on the world rankings and 97 players exempt from regional and final qualifying who could be joined by a further 35 from categories still to be resolved.

Fourteen places are on offer from mini-Order of Merits running on the European and American tours from the end of May.

Eight will be decided after the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on July 11-14 and another eight at the Western Open in Chicago the same week. The leading non-exempt player in the Mizuno Open in Japan and the first four in a Japanese current form list will also go straight into the Muirfield line-up.

For the non-exempt entrants, the Championship starts with regional qualifying at 16 courses on Monday, July 8.

Renfrew will again host the Scottish regional event, while a number of local players are also likely to head to Carlisle as they bid to take the first step towards earning the chance to rub shoulders with Tiger Woods & Co. Final Qualifying will be played at Dunbar, Gullane No.1, Luffness New and North Berwick on July 14-15.

Meanwhile, interest in next month’s event, which will see Woods, winner of the first two ‘Majors’ this season, bid to move a step nearer to completing the Grand Slam in one year, is growing among Americans.

Inquiries about tickets and accommodation from the golfing public on the other side of the Atlantic had been lower than usual, probably as a result of last September’s terrorist attacks.

But the R&A have now started to receive lots of calls from Americans who want to be at Muirfield on July 18-21 to see David Duval defend the title.

"Prior to Easter it was definitely quieter than usual as far as overseas interest was concerned," said the R&A’s championship secretary, David Hill.

"But things have started to pick up over the last few weeks, which is encouraging.

"It’s nice to have the Americans, in particular, at our Open and hopefully there will be plenty of them in the crowd at Muirfield."

As the countdown continues to the Open’s return to East Lothian - Muirfield last hosted the event in 1992 - work has now started on erecting the tented village.

"Compared to other venues there have been very few changes required to the infrastructure at Muirfield," added Hill. "Water, electric and drainage systems were all put in place for the 1992 Open and are still in good shape."

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