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Golf Notes October 29

Being a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup comes with perks not many players need.

For Paul Azinger, it proved to be timely.

Azinger was a surprising pick for the 2001 team, having won only once in eight years (2000 Sony Open) and finishing 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.

Then, the matches were delayed by one year because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fast forward to this summer, when Azinger was struggling with his swing and back injuries. His 10-year exemption from winning the '93 PGA Championship expires this year, and he figured he was going to finish out of the top 125.

The only thing saving him was his standing on the career money list.

Players get a one-time exemption for being in the top 25 in career money. If they remain in the top 50, they get another free pass.

``I called the Tour and talked to them at Westchester,'' Azinger said. ``I thought you could use it (career money exemption) one time. They said I could use a top 25 and a top 50.

``But they didn't mention anything about the Ryder Cup.''

Indeed, No. 10 in the pecking order of exempt status on tour is ``Members of the last-named U.S. Ryder Cup team.'' In fact, Azinger will have higher status than those who finish in the top 125.

Azinger wasn't obsessed with keeping his exempt status; he's more concerned about fixing his swing, and says he is getting closer.

Still, he was pleasantly surprised that he didn't have to spend his one-time exemption with six years remaining before he is eligible for the Champions Tour.

``I hadn't even thought about keeping my card,'' Azinger said. ``I would like to play well so I don't finish 190th on the money list, or wherever I am (175). It makes me sick to play the way I'm playing, but I'm on the mend. I've got to figure out how to make the game easier again -- and fun.''

NATIONWIDE HEARTACHE

Every putt matters this time of the year, and so does every dollar.

That was never more true than last week in Miami on the Nationwide Tour, when Shane Bertsch closed with a 72 and was in a six-way tie for 28th. He would have earned $3,570, enough to finish No. 55 on the money list and qualify for the Nationwide Tour Championship.

But wait.

Chris Starkjohann holed a 30-foot birdie putt and finished one stroke ahead in a tie for 23rd. That meant Bertsch went from a six-way tie for 28th to a five-way tie for 29th, a difference of $250.

He wound up 56th on the money list by $18.

DIVOTS

The Houston Open made a record contribution for the 11th straight year, giving more than $5.2 million to local charities. ... Scott Hoch, Rocco Mediate and U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Lietzke will play for the U.S. team in the UBS Cup next month at Sea Island in the 40-and-older version of the Ryder Cup. ... Paul Lawrie (Great Britain and Ireland) and Jose Maria Olazabal (continental Europe) were selected as captain's picks for the Seve Trophy to be played Nov. 6-9 in Spain.

STAT OF THE WEEK

The last player in his 40s to win the PGA Tour money title was Greg Norman, who was 40 when he won it in 1995. Norman also was the last player to be voted player of the year without having won a major.

FINAL WORD

``Maybe because I've hit a million balls.'' -- Vijay Singh, when asked why he was having his best season on the PGA Tour.

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