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Madrid last chance for some Europeans

This week's Madrid Open is a "last chance saloon" for a bunch of European Tour players desperate to keep their cards for next season, with former Ryder Cup player Peter Baker the highest profile among the strugglers.

Baker, who had a successful 1993 Ryder Cup even though Europe lost narrowly, lies 121st on the European money-list, with only the top 115 certain of a card next year.

This is their last week to earn enough to survive.

The 37-year-old Briton has also lost his place on the all-time money-list of players who automatically retain their cards no matter where they are on the order of merit, so Baker knows this week is his last chance to avoid going to tour school for the first time.

The Englishman joined the tour by way of qualification from invitations just after turning professional in 1986 and struggling at the wrong end of the rankings is a new experience for him.

"If truth's known I've played badly for the last three seasons," he said on Wednesday.

"All I can do is keep my fingers crossed it's my week this week and if it's not, it's off to tour school.

"Whatever happens I'm taking a long winter break to sort my game out.

"My enthusiasm has been dulled by constantly struggling and it's Catch 22.

"You play well if you are enthusiastic."

Another ex-Ryder Cup player, Briton David Gilford, who was on the winning side in 1995 and losing team of 1991, is sure to lose his card because he is not playing in Madrid.

Gilford decided to spend time at home after his wife's recent birth of twins.

Tour winners Jamie Spence, Roger Chapman, Gary Orr, all Britons, and Germany's Sven Struever are further strugglers below the danger line who may have to rely on invitations next year.

Spence is chairman of the tour's tournament committee but he denied there would be any favouritism towards him when invitations are handed out if he does not make his card by right.

"I've never had to ask for an invite and I hope I don't have to go down that road," said Spence, who burst into the winner's enclosure by shooting a tour record-equalling 60 in the final round of the 1992 European Masters before beating Swede Anders Forsbrand in a playoff in Switzerland.

"But I'm entitled to ask as much as anyone and I don't feel embarrassed by it."

Three 2004 Ryder Cup players feature in Madrid -- Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Angel Jimenez and David Howell.

Globetrotter Montgomerie revealed he has a skins game lined up in Korea with Tiger Woods, K J Choi and woman professional Seri Pak in early November, the week before playing in the UBS Warburg Cup in America, which he then follows by playing in Japan.

Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez defends the Madrid title.

Wednesday's pro-am was abandoned after morning heavy rain.

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