Chrysler Championship Last Stop to 125

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04 Chrysler ChampionshipThe man worthwhile is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat.
 
Judge Smails said it. Billy Andrade applied it.
 
Andrade had every reason to project an uncomfortable, agitated look last week at the Funai Classic ' the look of a man whose shorts were way, way too tight in the seat. But he didnt.
 
He said he relished the situation. He thought it was fun.
 
It was optimism, not masochism, which allowed Andrade to produce such a positive outlook. And come last Sunday, he still had that smile on his face ' but for reasons far more comprehensible.
 
Andrade shot 66 in the final round at Disney. That moved him from a tie for 36th as the day began into a finishing tie for 16th. That netted him $57,015. That moved him from 126th to 121st on the money list. That didnt fully assure him of keeping his PGA Tour card for next season, but it gave him a little margin for error.
 
A handful of players have proved their worth ' and theyre worthwhile ' over the last couple of weeks. Brent Geiberger, Michael Allen, Chris Smith, Cameron Beckman and Mark Calcavecchia have all locked up exempt status for 2005 thanks to a quintet of clutch performances.
 
Other players who have been treading water for an entire year now have one last chance to make some progress, before they drown in their own mediocrity.
 
The 2004 PGA Tour season doesnt officially come to an end this Sunday, but for those fighting for their professional livelihoods, this is it. It all comes down to the Chrysler Championship, the final full-field event of the year.
 
The number to beat is $597,034. Thats the amount accrued thus far by Olin Browne, who currently resides in the No. 125 position on the money list.
 
(Inflation alert: Esteban Toledo was 125th last year with $487,495.)
 
To finish in the (top) 125 means everything, said Browne.
 
Thats because it assures you of fully exempt status on tour for the following season. It allows you to play, for the most part, whenever and wherever you desire (save for special events such as majors, and WGC and invitational tournaments.).
 
Simply put: you get to make your own schedule.
 
Andrade, as mentioned, started last weeks event in the cold, just outside the warmth of that monetary barrier. Still, he had some security. Andrade is a past champion on tour and was already safely inside the top 150 in earnings, which offers some status next season (well get to that shortly).
 
So Andrade had the opportunity of viewing his situation more of a challenge than a burden, one in which all is not lost if he loses.
 
Others, like Kent Jones, are not only unable to think of this in positive terms, theyre trying not to think about it at all ' trying.
 
You cant really think about it, said Jones, who is No. 124. You have to put it out of your mind, go out and play the best that you can, and see what happens. Let the chips fall where they may.
 
Can you really do that?
 
Not really.
 
Its their own little Tell-Tale Heart; it echoes in their head: 125125125125.
 
The number is like the Boogieman. For some it simply doesnt exist. For others, it exists alright ' theyve seen it many times. Its taken up residence under their bed and wont go away when the light comes on.
 
Such is the case for Jones. Hes been struggling to stay on tour since his rookie campaign seven years ago, and has only once, last season, cracked the top 125 in earnings.
 
I dont know if its a good thing, but I have experience in this situation, he said. Hopefully, that will help.
 
This week is more than just the last stop for players to get onto the train that leaves at 125 and will take them into all-exempt territory. Its an opportunity for players to improve their chances of getting into the U.S. Open and British Open (top 20 on the money list); and the last chance for them to get into the Tour Championship (top 30), the Masters (top 40) and invitational events like Bay Hill, Colonial and the Memorial (top 70).
 
And then theres one of the most important ' and most overlooked ' numbers on tour: 150.
 
I think the real race is the 150, said Beckman.
 
The thing about finishing between 126 and 150 (on the money list) is that you still maintain some PGA Tour status, explained veteran Danny Briggs. Youre not going to get into the Invitationals and some of the tournaments, but youre still going to get into 15-20 events, which is still good. And youre still going to have some endorsement contract deals. And you still have the opportunity to play out here.
 
Players who finish 126-150 attain partial status on tour for the following season ' so theyre not forced to play full time on the Nationwide Tour. But they are still prioritized behind those in the top 125, as well as Nationwide Tour and Q-school graduates when it comes to getting into events. That means they dont have the luxury of competing at their leisure; they are told when they can play.
 
Take Mark and Dean Wilson (no relation), for example. They are each averaging about $16,000 per start this season, but while Mark is 166th on the money list, Dean is 133rd.
 
Thats because Dean finished inside the top 125 last year and Mark didnt; therefore, Dean has been allowed to compete in 14 more tournaments.
 
The Chrysler will mark Deans 33rd start of the season, and his 11th in a row. Hes played straight through the last two months because he knows that while there is a measure of security inside the top 150, there is also plenty of uncertainty.
 
Thats good, but thats not where I want to be, Wilson said of being guaranteed to finish inside the top 150. You dont get to pick your own schedule; you dont know when youre going to get to play. You really have to take it one week at a time, and thats tough.
 
Wilsons point is well illustrated this week.
 
The Chrysler features the likes of Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, defending champion Retief Goosen and 19 other tour winners from this season.
 
However, only 27 of the 51 players between 120 and 170 on the money list are in the field. Its not due to lack of interest; its due to lack of acceptance.
 
The Chrysler is only open to 132 players this year (it was 156 a year ago). And that lessened number is a noose around the necks of many of the players trying to secure some form of playing status for next season.
 
Most of the players whose playing status this year is based on graduation from Q-school or the Nationwide Tour werent able to make the field. And none of the players ' unless they received a special invitation ' from the 150 category qualified to compete at Innisbrook.
 
On the other hand, all of the players who finished in the top 125 a year ago had the opportunity to enter.
 
Briggs is 156th in earnings. And he wont be able to improve upon that position this week. A Q-school grad, he didnt make the field.
 
It's back to Q-school and hope for another shot next year.
 
Thats why 125 is the primary target number for about 20 percent of the field this week. It wipes away the worries ' until they reemerge next season. If not, then 150 will be some consolation.
 
Of that population, few will share the outward excitement of one Billy Andrade. But, if their ship should come in at Tampa Bay, it will certainly make it easier to grin.
 
Related Links:
  • PGA Tour Money List
  • Full Coverage - Chrysler Championship