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Bubble Boys Try to Keep Cards

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Per-Ulrik Johansson has won five times on the European Tour, played in the final singles match against Phil Mickelson in the 1995 Ryder Cup and had three straight finishes in the top 24 in the Masters.
He is accustomed to success.
He can do without the stress he faces this week in the Chrysler Championship.
The final, full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour is one last chance for players to finish in the top 125 on the money list to keep their cards for next year.
Johannson is at No. 125 by a mere $654.
'The plan when I first came over was to not fight for my card,' he said. '(It) was to get to the next level. When I played in Europe, I was playing in the majors and World (Golf) Championship tournaments.
'All of a sudden, here I am fighting for my card,' he said. 'It wasn't by plan, but here I am. And I have to deal with it.'
Johansson is not alone.
Vijay Singh has a chance to clinch the PGA Tour money title and end Tiger Woods' four-year reign with a victory this week. A dozen others are trying to get into the $6 million Tour Championship next week in Houston.
Still, most of the focus is on those just trying to keep their jobs.
Instead of cutting up with each other on the practice range, players quietly went about their business, desperate to find a swing that will pay off in their final at bat.
Otherwise, it's back to Q-school or they are saddled with conditional status, meaning they get the leftovers - the weaker tournaments that top players avoid, which usually amounts to about 20 starts.
Aaron Barber had one of the most amazing weeks of his career at the Colonial, when he played the first two rounds with Annika Sorenstam. But as the season comes to a conclusion, he is No. 140 on the money list and needs to finish in the top 15 at the Chrysler Championship to keep his card.
He was in a similar position a few years ago on the Canadian Tour, but made a birdie on the last hole of the last tournament and kept his card by about $20.
'That wasn't quite as big a deal as this,' Barber said. 'This is my 32nd tournament. In a perfect world, I wouldn't play that many. But as a rookie, you don't know the courses, you know what taking a week off is.
'Looking back, I wish I had paced myself,' he said. 'Hopefully, I'll get another chance.'
Each shot could be the difference between a PGA Tour card and a trip to Q-school. One player moving up the leaderboard means another player is falling behind.
It's a good week to be a mathematician. Every dollar counts.
Rocco Mediate tried to give the bubble boys reason for optimism.
'I would look at it this way,' Mediate said. 'If you are 125th or 126th or whatever, you obviously haven't played really well this year yet. So, I feel like I would be due for something good.
'I don't ever want to be in that position.'
Mediate is on his own bubble.
He is No. 30 on the money list and trying to protect his position so he can play get into the Tour Championship. All but two players from No. 26 (Retief Goosen) to No. 51 (Tim Clark) on the money list are playing in the Chrysler Championship.
Fred Couples (No. 32), who was only about $12,000 behind Mediate, withdrew Wednesday after his back went out during the pro-am.
Mediate had no reason to believe he could qualify for the Tour Championship until a recent surge in his play.
He was second in Boston, tied for fifth in Pennsylvania and tied for ninth last week in the Funai Classic at Disney. In between, he withdrew twice because of back problems. He feels much better now.
'In September, I was 60th or 70th,' he said. 'So to have this opportunity is good. I just need to take advantage of it. I'm beat up a little bit, but I'm ready to go.'
John Huston is also injured (neck), but he can't afford to miss the final tournament of the year. Huston is 40th on the money list, and Augusta National invites the top 40 players to the Masters.
Jeff Brehaut is No. 99 on the money list, courtesy of a tie for fifth two weeks ago in Greensboro that finally put him over the hump. It's the first time in four tries that he will finish in the top 125, meaning he can determine his own schedule.
Looking at the bubble boys on both sides of him, he could relate to the tension.
'If they're not talking about it, they're thinking about it,' he said. 'It comes down to playing good golf. What everyone is trying to do is have the one week that gets them over the top, so they can be in the spot I am now.'
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - Chrysler Championship
  • Full Coverage - Chrysler Championship
  • More PGA Tour Preview Information