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Masters field is closed after 5 special invites

Defending champion Phil Mickelson will head a field of around 92 players in the opening round of the U.S. Masters at Augusta National next week, organisers said on Tuesday.

Five players received last-minute invitations to compete in the first of the year's four majors, lifting the overall total to 101, but Augusta officials expect nine ageing past champions will decline to play.

"It's always difficult to predict the exact number but I think you can bank on roughly nine former winners not teeing off in the opening round," a media spokesman said.

Some past champions accept they can no longer be competitive at Augusta and four-times winner Arnold Palmer has already said he would attend but not play this year's event.

The Masters could also be without six-times champion Jack Nicklaus, who has yet to commit following the death earlier this month of his 17-month old grandson.

Former British Open champion Tom Lehman, Australia's Craig Parry, South African Tim Clark, Britain's Graham McDowell and American Joe Ogilvie were the five to receive invitations on Tuesday.

Seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie and Asian number one Thongchai Jaidee had been hoping for special invites from the Augusta committee but missed out.

Lehman, who will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2006, and Ogilvie earned their spots by finishing in the top 10 in the PGA Tour money list after the rain-hit Players' Championship was finally completed at the TPC at Sawgrass on Monday.

The other three qualify by being ranked this week in the world's top 50. Parry is 35th, Clark 28th and McDowell 39th.

"The Masters is going to be a special tournament," said the 25-year-old McDowell, who broke into the top 50 for the first time by tying for second at the Bay Hill Invitational in Florida nine days ago.

"The Masters is a dream come true. I've watched that tournament since I was a boy. For me, it's the pinnacle of the golf world really. It's the golf tournament.

"I feel like I'm playing great golf and I am a much better player than last year," added the Northern Irishman, who will be making his Masters debut.

"I feel I can win in any given week."

The 2005 Masters will be played at Augusta National from April 7-10.

American left-hander Mickelson won last year's title by a shot after overhauling a last-day charge by Ernie Els, who had to settle for second place.

 

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