The R&A announced today that the exemption of five-time Open Champion Tom Watson will be extended to enable him to make his 40th anniversary appearance in the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews.
The 64-year-old, who came so close to winning the 2009 Open at Turnberry, will play once again at the home of golf next year and make a remarkable 37th appearance in golf’s oldest and most international Major Championship.
The R&A presented Watson with a special commemorative solid silver Players’ Badge to recognise his 40 years in The Open Championship.
A true legend of the game, Watson is one of a select group of players to win The Open on five occasions along with James Braid, JH Taylor and Peter Thomson. Only Harry Vardon has won more Championships with six victories.
In his first appearance in The Open at Carnoustie in 1975 Watson defeated Jack Newton by one shot after an 18-hole play-off. Two years later at Turnberry he won again by one shot after a memorable battle with Jack Nicklaus in what became known as the 'Duel in the Sun'.
At Muirfield in 1980, Watson won by four shots from his countryman Lee Trevino. At Royal Troon in 1982 he won by one shot from Peter Oosterhuis and Nick Price and at Royal Birkdale the following year he successfully defended his trophy edging out Andy Bean and Hale Irwin by a single shot.
In 1984, he finished tied second at St Andrews after Seve Ballesteros clinched the Championship with a dramatic birdie putt on the 18th green. At the same venue in 2005, Watson was paired with his great friend and golfing rival Nicklaus as he played his last round of professional golf and joined him as he waved an emotional goodbye from the famous Swilcan Bridge.
Five years ago Watson led the Championship going down the 18th hole at Turnberry and, at the age of 59, would have become its oldest Champion, but a bogey meant he finished tied with fellow American Stewart Cink who went on to defeat him in a four-hole play-off.
Watson, who has also won the Masters on two occasions and the US Open 1982 in a hugely successful career, spoke of his delight at having the opportunity to play at St Andrews next year.
“Some of my finest memories in golf have come from playing in The Open Championship,” he said. “I am very proud and honoured to be given this opportunity to play once again in St Andrews next year. It is a special place for everyone in golf and I am very much looking forward to playing there again in front of the wonderful Scottish galleries.
“The Open Championship is unlike any other event in golf and to be part of its history is a privilege.”
Watson will be fully exempt into the 144th Open Championship under exemption category F3 as a Past Champion finishing in the top ten of The Open between 2009 and 2014.
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “Tom is the most successful Open Champion still playing today and has made a huge contribution to the Championship over the last 40 years. His performances in winning The Open on five occasions were truly outstanding and to come so close to winning a sixth Championship in 2009 demonstrates his longevity in the sport. We are delighted that he will he will be able to play in The Open next year and I’m sure golf fans everywhere will look forward to seeing him play again at St Andrews.”