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Augusta National to host women's tournament; Tom Watson wins Par-3 Contest

The Hogan Bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship will take place at the course the week before next year's Masters. Rob Schumacher / USA TODAY Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Augusta National Golf Club opened its competitive doors to women on Wednesday, announcing it would host an amateur championship in another sign attitudes are changing at one of the world's most exclusive clubs.

Making his first State of the Masters address, Augusta chairman Fred Ridley said the club, that had barred women from membership until six years ago, would welcome the world's top female amateurs to compete.

The Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship will take place the week before next year's U.S. Masters.

The 54-hole, stroke play tournament will feature an international field of 72 players. Invitees will be determined by awarding spots to winners of other recognized championships and using the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking.

The first two rounds will take place at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta. After a cut to the low 30 scores, the final competitive round will take place at Augusta National on Saturday, April 6, when an amateur champion will be crowned for the first time ever at the home of the Masters.

"(Club founders) Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts left behind a legacy of always trying to contribute meaningfully to the game of golf," Ridley, the father of three girls, said.

In the early 2000s with civil rights groups pushing the public to boycott Masters sponsors over Augusta's men-only membership policy, former chairman William "Hootie" Johnson declared the club would not be forced to open its doors to women "at the point of a bayonet."

Johnson stood firm against mounting pressure and it was not until he stepped down that his successor Billy Payne finally ushered in the first women members in 2012, ending an issue that had reached the White House.

Tom Watson wins par-3 contest for the old guard, young Nicklaus makes ace

Tom Watson struck a blow for the old timers and Jack Nicklaus's 15-year-old grandson and caddie capped a rollicking, fun-filled U.S. Masters Par-3 Contest with an ace on Wednesday.

The 68-year-old Watson, playing with fellow greats Nicklaus and Gary Player, needed only eight putts to post a six-under 21 and edge out Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Belgian Thomas Pieters to become the oldest winner of the tournament's traditional curtain-raiser.

GT Nicklaus Jr., one of 22 grandchildren of the fabled Golden Bear, was given a swing from the last tee after lugging the six-time champion's bag, and fired his first-ever ace to set off a wild celebration punctuated by a laughing bear hug from his granddad.

In winning the family-friendly competition, where kids, parents, wives and girlfriends often participate, Watson shrugged off the so-called Par-3 curse, whereby no winner has gone on to win the Masters, because he will not be competing in the tournament.

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