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The Race to Magnolia Lane

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The Honda Classic doesnt normally register as a red-letter event on the PGA Tour calendar. In fact, it probably ranks fourth in the quartet of events that comprise the Florida Swing.
 
This year, however, the Honda has major significance ' as in the Masters Tournament.
 
This is the final week (aside from winning The Players Championship) that a player, not already exempt, can earn a free trip up Magnolia Lane.
 
Come Sunday evening, the top three on the 2002 money list, as well as the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, can punch their tickets to Augusta National.
 
Granted, most of the field has been finalized. But there are still spots remaining, and many an anxious player primed to fill them.
 
In terms of hard-core cash, the top 27 on the current money list are alive to qualify via their earnings. However, only one of those players not already exempt is in Coral Springs, Fla.
 
That would be No. 16 Pat Perez.
 
Perez is $449,798 behind No. 3, Jose Maria Olazabal. Therefore, the reigning Q-School medallist would need to do something he could not at Pebble Beach, win the tournament. Perez must finish first and collect the $630,000 first-place prize to book a tee time on April 11.
 
Conspicuous by their absences this week are Matt Gogel, Len Mattiace, John Cook, Fred Funk and David Berganio, Jr. None of the five are in the Masters field, and none are trying to play their way in either.
 
Gogel is 11th on the money list after his Pebble Beach victory, while Mattiace is 13th following his triumph at Riviera. Both could have finish first or second at the Honda and made it to Augusta.
 
Even without a win, a strong finish could have vaulted either man inside the top 50 in the world rankings. Gogel is currently 54th; Mattiace is 55th.
 
Cook, Funk and Berganio would have needed to win at the TPC at Heron Bay in order to qualify. But in Lottery terms: You cant win if you dont play.
 
While the money list is pretty cut and dried, the world rankings are a tricky lot.
 
It would seem that those ranked 46th and higher are secure. Rory Sabbatini hopes that extends one spot lower. The South African is 47th in the world and skipping the Honda, as are No. 49 Kirk Triplett and No. 50 Steve Lowery.
 
Triplett and Lowery, however, are already among the Masters elite, thanks, in part, to their positions inside the world rankings at the end of the 2001 season.
 
Pierre Fulke currently resides in the 51st position. Hes not in Florida, but rather in the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Desert Classic. Fulke can gain entry to Augusta with a solid finish, thanks to the stature of field present: World No. 3 Ernie Els, No. 11 Padraig Harrington, No. 15 Darren Clarke, No. 23 Colin Montgomerie and No. 31 Thomas Bjorn.
 
The stronger the field, the more it can boost your world ranking.
 
Phillip Price, who is ranked 65th in the world, is also in Dubai.
 
Steve Flesch is the primary person in the States to keep an eye on. At No. 60, the left-hander is the only player inside the 51-70 area, not already exempt for the Masters, in the Honda field.
 
Aside from Gogel and Mattiace, Cook (No. 63 in the world), Loren Roberts (No. 67), Peter OMalley (No. 68) and Funk (No. 69) are idle this week.
 
Those outside the top 70, and competing this week, need only look to Mattiace for inspiration. The journeyman was 157th in the world prior to his Nissan Open victory. The following Monday, he woke up 102 spots higher at No. 55.