Joy, pain in the PGA

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Now for something completely different -- a golf tournament that won't be all about Vijay Singh.

No, this weekend is about hope and despair and paying the mortgage.

Now that doesn't mean Vijay won't win the Chrysler Championship in Tampa this weekend.

Since he is never more than a couple of shots out of the lead these days, there's a good chance he will.

This week, however, the real sweaty palms won't belong solely to those lucky guys battling for the lead. This is the Last Chance Saloon of the 2004 season, a time when the desperate horde of PGA Tour players whose games have failed them in one way or another this year try to catch a lifeline into 2005.

The top 125 money earners of the season get a free ride on to the 2005 tour. What they make of it is up to them. The ones who finish from 126 to 150 get partial exemptions. Anybody below that high-water line gets washed away with the tide.

Truth be told, there are several money lists that will be frozen after this $5-million US tournament that have great significance for those lucky or good enough to squeak in.

First major cutoff is the Top 30, all of whom get an invitation to make even more money a week later at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. This is a real boondoggle: short field, huge money, wonderful odds.

Last place pays $75,000 US.

Next stop is the Top 40, which comes with an automatic invitation to the Masters at Augusta National next April. If the top 40 is a little too rare for your talent, how about the Top 70, which is the usual cutoff for most of the tour's invitational events.

Then, of course, we get to the one that grabs most players by the throat: the top 125. Anybody in that group automatically gets his 2005 card renewed, no questions asked, fully exempt. It is not a licence to print money but it is at least a licence to make a living.

After that the pickings get slim but there will be those who are content to make it into the top 150 which is a ticket to the final stage of the Tour's gut-wrenching qualifying tournament next month, and provides some partial exemptions for next year.

As far as the Top 30 goes, Aussie Rod Pampling is right on the line, sitting at No. 30. But anybody three or four places on either side can move in or out of the Tour Championship field with his play this weekend. That includes Carlos Franco (28), Ryder Cupper Jay Haas (29), Kenny Perry (31), Jonathan Kaye (32) and Charles Howell (33), who finished second to Chad Campbell at last year's Tour Championship.

The Tour Championship is definitely a 'what have you done for me lately' event. You'll recall that Mike Weir won it in 2001, then failed to make it into the field in 2002.

"I've been in this position before," said Howell. "Where I'm counting guys ahead of me but if I play well, things will take care of themselves."

Sometimes things don't just take care of themselves. A guy needs a little luck.

For example, when Ernie Els and Tiger Woods sent their regrets to the Chrysler Championship on Monday, tournament organizers were horrified but Dean Pappas was ecstatic. He was one of the alternates who got into the starting field. Pappas is No. 135 on the money list, just $84,000 behind Olin Browne, perched precariously at No. 125.

THANKS, ELIN

What Pappas does with his opportunity is his business, but if he makes a big move he might want to send Elin Woods a housewarming gift for keeping her husband on the high seas for a few more days of honeymooning.

And if you don't think that kind of good luck is possible, consider the case of Ryan Palmer, the rookie who held off Singh last weekend at the Funai Classic.

His $756,000 payday vaulted Palmer from 91st on the money list to 37th. If he can hold that position through this weekend, there will still be a Palmer at Augusta next April.

It just won't be Arnie.

Last year, as he said his farewell to the Masters after half a century, Arnie Palmer talked about the magic of driving down Magnolia Lane with his bride, Winnie, for the first time in 1955.

When he learned he might be going to Augusta, Ryan Palmer (no relation to Arnie) was star-struck.

"What an unbelievable dream come true, to get to drive down Magnolia Lane with my wife and parents," Ryan Palmer said.

"I can't wait."

The stories won't all be as happy as that one this weekend.

But they'll still be stories.


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