Exemption applies to past Open champs

The 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews will not be the final one for five-time champion Tom Watson after all.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which runs the game's oldest championship, announced Monday a new exemption criteria for past champions:

Any former Open winner who finishes among the top 10 and ties will be exempt for the following five years.

That means that Watson, 60, who lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink this year at Turnberry, will now be eligible through the 2014 Open, if he chooses to play.

"We have introduced this exemption as a direct response to seeing two of our great Open champions, both in their 50s, challenging to win our championship these last two years," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, referring to Watson and two-time champion Greg Norman, who tied for third in 2008 at Royal Birkdale.

"We rightly reduced the age of exemption for past champions from 65 to 60 two years ago and our intention was never to remove players still at the top of their game from competing in the Open."

Watson had maintained that he was fine with the change from 65 to 60 as the age-limit for past champions otherwise not exempt -- even though it seemed to only affect him among current past champions.

"I would like to thank the R&A for changing its exemption
qualifications which will allow me [and others] to compete in the Open Championship past the age limit of 60," Watson said in a statement. "I plan to compete against the youngsters as long as I can effectively play the game at the highest level of competition. I am looking forward to next year's Open at St. Andrews in particular as well as the venues beyond 2010."

In 2005, Jack Nicklaus played his final Open at St. Andrews at age 65.

Watson led the championship this year on the 72nd hole and seemingly had the Claret Jug in his grasp when he hit his approach to the final green.

But the ball trickled over the back of the green, and he was unable to get up and down for the par that would have won his record-tying sixth Open. He then lost to Cink in a four-hole aggregate playoff.

Watson won his last Open in 1983.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.