Watson exempt from ’10 U.S. Open qualifying

Tom Watson, 60, has accepted an invitation into the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

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Tom Watson will return to Pebble Beach for his 31st U.S. Open Championship.

The U.S. Golf Association extended Watson, the 1982 Open champion, a special exemption from qualifying for the June 17-20 event at Pebble Beach Golf Links. In accepting the spot, he said he was “deeply grateful to the USGA.’’

Watson, 60, made his U.S. Open debut in 1972 at Pebble Beach, where he tied for 29th, 15 shots behind winner Jack Nicklaus.

Watson would turn the tables in dramatic fashion 10 years later, holing a chip shot for birdie on the 71st hole for his only U.S. Open championship. That ’82 Open forever linked Watson, Nicklaus and Pebble Beach.

“It’s my favorite golf course in the world,’’ Watson said Sunday after finishing 18th at the Masters.

Watson’s 39 Tour victories include five British Opens and two PGAs.

Watson last played in the U.S. Open in 2003 at Olympia Fields, opening with a co-leading 65 before fading to 28th.

Asked about Watson’s special invitation, Nicklaus said it is deserved. 

“I played at Pebble Beach when I was 60,” Nicklaus said. “Do I think he should be there? Absolutely.”

Watson’s son Michael, who looped for dad at Augusta National, will not be on the bag at Pebble Beach. Todd Newcomb, who caddied for Watson on the Champions Tour, will have the duty.

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