Intriguing Money Lines at Chrysler

RSS

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- In his 25 years on the PGA TOUR, money and prestige are the only things that ever made Paul Azinger choke.
 
This week is mostly about money.
 
The Chrysler Championship is the final full-field event of the year, a time for players to pay more attention to dollars and cents than birdies and bogeys. The bottom 120 spots on the money list will be determined, with significant stops down the ladder at No. 30 (TOUR Championship), No. 40 (Masters invitation), No. 125 (full status next year) and No. 150 (conditional status).
 
Azinger has been down this road before.
 
Two years ago, he was No. 123 on the money list and seemingly in good shape until a bogey on his 17th hole and a three-putt bogey on his final hole that caused him to miss the cut by one shot. He screamed in disgust as he walked off the course, and the real agony set in two days later when he wound up at No. 126.
 
He's trying not to pay too much attention to the money list, and that much was clear when he picked up a copy of it on a table and casually scanned the players around him.
 
'Is it that close?' he asked. 'Are you kidding me?'
 
Azinger is just under $22,000 ahead of Bubba Dickerson (No. 125), but at least he has a chance. Dickerson, a former U.S. Amateur champion, is the third alternate this week and might not get a chance to tee it up. If any of the three players behind him -- Brian Bateman, John Cook or Mark Calcavecchia -- so much as make the cut, Dickerson loses his card.
 
'I've got one week to play good,' Azinger said. 'It's in my hands.'
 
How much does each shot matter? No sooner had Azinger put down his copy of the money list than he recalled Las Vegas two weeks ago, when he had a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole. He missed it, which cost him about $20,000.
 
'I know I'm one shot away from not being in this position,' he said.
 
The nail-biting starts Thursday on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, a worthy test for the winner, a roller coaster for those who are on the various bubbles:
 
Top 30 -- Joe Durant's victory at Disney moved him up 37 spots to No. 29 on the money list, and he looks fairly comfortable with a $185,018 lead on the guy at No. 31 (Tim Clark). Ernie Els is between them, playing for the first time since he finished fifth at the American Express Championship last month. Els has played Innisbrook once, but calls it his favorite PGA TOUR course in Florida. Clark has missed the cut twice and finished 11th in Tampa.
 
Top 40 -- A month ago, Troy Matteson only wanted to keep his PGA TOUR card. Then he won in Las Vegas, tied for second at Disney and now has Georgia on his mind. Going to East Lake for the TOUR Championship would require at least a third-place finish, but what Matteson really wants is a trip to Augusta National.
 
Here's where the ulcers come in. Matteson was alone in second at Disney until a bogey on the last hole. The tie cost him $92,000, sending him from 36th to 42nd on the money list, an example of how every shot counts in the final few weeks.
 
Tour rookies Camilo Villegas (No. 37) and Nathan Green (No. 38) appear to be safe. Vaughn Taylor is at No. 39, feeling even more pressure since he lives in Augusta.
 
On the bubble is Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who gave up at least $35,500 (last-place money) when he withdrew from the American Express Championship last month to attend Byron Nelson's funeral.
 
Had he not left Europe early, Lehman would be No. 36 on the money list.
 
Top 125 -- The bubble belongs to Dickerson, and it could burst Thursday if three more players don't withdraw.
 
It would be awful if a guy at No. 125 on the money list doesn't get a chance to play in the final tournament, but like everything else in golf, players have no one to blame but themselves.
 
Dickerson has played 32 times this year and has only three top 10s, which explains why he is so low on the pecking order for getting into this tournament. And he did himself no favors last week at Disney. After opening with rounds of 66-68, he closed with 72-78 to tie for 71st and move up only two spots.
 
Cook is at No. 127 and has the advantage of getting a sponsor's exemption. The other exemption went to Duffy Waldorf at No. 130, both reaping the rewards of supporting the TOUR for a combined 44 years.
 
Top 150 -- Henrik Bjornstad is the first PGA TOUR player from Norway, but maybe not much longer. He is at No. 150 by a scant $3,401 over Tag Ridings, and Bjornstad is in a worse predicament than Dickerson as the seventh alternate.
 
Ridings has come through in the clutch before at Tampa. Two years ago, he was at No. 190 when he birdied seven of the last 10 holes for a 64 in the final round of the Chrysler Championship, tied for 11th and earned just enough money to finish at No. 125.
 
Conditional status is not the end of the world. Guys who finish between No. 126 and No. 150 drop in the pecking order behind those who earn cards through Q-school or the Nationwide Tour. Briny Baird finished at No. 126 a year ago and got into 25 tournaments this year, earning enough to be No. 100 to secure his card.
 
Finish outside the top 150, however, and punch a ticket to the second stage of Q-school, or spend next year either begging for exemptions or chopping it around the Nationwide Tour.
 
Now that's pressure.
 
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.