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R&A allow women to compete in British Open

Female golfers could be playing at next year's British Open.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the governing body for the sport outside the United States, said Thursday it was changing its entry rules to allow women to qualify for the oldest of the four majors.

The announcement came on the same day that 16-year-old Michelle Wie made her pro debut by shooting a 2-under 70 at the Samsung World Championship in California.

``It's great that they opened it up,'' Wie said. ``Hopefully, I'll be able to try for it.''

Wie said she did not know whether her schedule next year would allow her to go over to Britain for the first stage of qualifying, which is only 18 holes.

Past entry forms for the British Open restricted the event to ``any male professional golfer'' or ``male amateur golfer whose playing handicap does not exceed scratch.'' The new rules state that entry ``should be based on playing ability irrespective of gender.''

Any woman finishing in the top five -- including ties -- in any of the four LPGA majors will be eligible for regional qualifying. In addition, any women meeting the entry requirements for international qualifying, final qualifying and the Open itself can enter at these stages directly.

Sorenstam was the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour when she played in the 2003 Colonial, but she doesn't have any interest in qualifying for golf's oldest championships.

``It would take a really extraordinary woman, no doubt about it,'' she said. ``For me, this is where I want to be. Maybe down the road there will be somebody like Michelle that wants to try it out.''

The three majors in the United States -- the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA -- have no policy barring women.

The 135th British Open will be played next year at Royal Liverpool from July 20-23.

``I am delighted that a qualification route has now been established for the best women players to gain access to the championship, competing alongside men on the same courses and from the same tees,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said.

The R&A's announcement was welcomed by British Sports Minister Richard Caborn.

``I think it's an important step forward for women's sport,'' he said. ``The Open really is now truly open. Everybody can play in it regardless of their sex. I think the R&A have listened to what people think and I'm very pleased they are changing the rules.''

October 14, 2005

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