Tom Watson has been granted a special exemption by the R&A to play in his 37th Open Championship at St Andrews next year.
The news follows hot on the heels of confirmation of the host venues for the 2017 and 2018 Opens.
US Ryder Cup captain Watson, a five-time winner of the Open, will join the field at the Old Course next summer to celebrate what will be the 40th anniversary of his debut in golf’s oldest professional tournament.
To further recognise the milestone, the R&A has also presented Watson with a special commemorative solid silver players’ bradge.
“Some of my finest memories in golf have come from playing in the Open Championship,” said the 64-year-old. “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.”
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’.
“Tom Watson is the most successful Open champion still playing today." - Peter Dawson, R&A chief executive
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 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.
As well as his Open successes, Watson also won the Masters twice and the US Open in 1982.
Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, commented: “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.”
Tom Watson: The Open’s Finest?
With five wins to his name, as well as several other impressive performances in the championship, is Tom Watson the greatest Open player of all time? Is there another player who has impressed you more? Leave your thoughts in our ‘Comments’ section below.