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Player won't return to Masters after 2003

Gary Player's love affair with the Masters is over. The three-time winner of a green jacket is planning to turn his back on Augusta National and never return after he plays in his 46th and final Masters championship in April.

That's because he has been angered by club chairman Hootie Johnson's letter advising that life-time exemptions for all former winners had been scrapped for players over the age of 65.

Player, who will captain the International Team against the USA in this year's Presidents Cup, is 67 and had hoped to play until he turned 70.

"Augusta has made me feel pretty sad," Player told Associated Press at the recent MasterCard Championship, where he shot his age in the second round at Hualalai Golf Club and finished tied for 25th.

"They promise you an exemption and then they take it away.

"I was hoping to play until I was 70. I felt I would be competitive until then. I didn't want to play for a lifetime, just until 70 and then I'd have been happy to quit playing. I'd have been satisfied."

Johnson raised eyebrows - as he seems to be getting a habit of doing - when he changed the winner's exemption category after writing letters to a few older champions prior to the 2002 Masters.

In those letters Johnson strongly urged Billy Casper, Gay Brewer and Doug Ford to withdraw because their participation 'did not reflect a spirit of participation'.

Player, who in 1973 missed his only Masters in 47 years, has missed the cut in eight of the last 10 years, but had never failed to break 80 until shooting 80-78 last year.

But this was on an Augusta National layout that had been 'Tigerproofed' - Johnson and his committee stretched it by more than 300 yards to 7,290 yards.

But performances apart, the 67-year-old South African says he can't help but question the fairness of Johnson's age limit mandate.

"It's just such a surprise when they have a rule in place - and it is a rule - that you have a lifetime exemption," Player said.

"Augusta doesn't enter my mind now. It hurts too much. You always had Augusta in mind, even this early in the year, and now I feel sour toward it."

Asked by Associated Press if he might be tempted to send Johnson a letter with his second-round scorecard, a spotless five-birdie 67, Player retorted with a smile, "I think Mr. Johnson likes writing letters more than receiving them."

Player believes that Johnson should have instituted the age limit for Masters champions going forward instead of making it retroactive.

And because of it, one of the world great golfers of the 20th century - he missed out on becoming the second man after Jack Nicklaus to win all four Majors twice by only a single major - is adamant that after his final round this year he won't be back, not even for the annual Champion's Dinner on the Tuesday prior to the tournament.

"I wouldn't feel welcome," he said. "Many of the top players I've spoken to have said the same thing: they don't feel welcome. After this year there will be no reason for me to return."


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