The decision to allow women to qualify for the Open Championship has been welcomed by Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam and major winner Jose Maria Olazabal.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which governs the game, has changed the entry criteria for the oldest tournament in the world to let leading women qualify on an equal basis to men. The top five finishers at each of the four women’s majors will be eligible to enter regional qualifying as of next year.
The rule change brings the Open into line with the other three major tournaments, which do not discriminate on their entry forms between men and women.
Woosnam was happy to see the change put in place. The former US Masters champion said: “If they are good enough to get through regional qualifying and into final qualifying, they deserve to get in.”
His thoughts were echoed by Olazabal, another Green Jacket winner. The Spaniard said: “It wouldn’t bother me playing alongside Michelle Wie in the Open. If she got there, I think it would be exciting for the game of golf.”
Olazabal’s compatriot Seve Ballesteros made a competitive return to the European Tour after nearly two years out with an arthritic back. However, he could only manage a 6 over par 77 in the opening round of the Madrid Open. That leaves him 14 shots behind overnight leaders Mark Roe of England and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke is one stroke behind on 7 under par, alongside Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin. Ballesteros last made a start in anger at the 2003 Seve Trophy. His last tour win came in the 1995.