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Toughest Q-School starts on Wednesday

It is the largest field of the year, the longest tournament of the year and features the smallest purse.

The final stage of Q-school starts Wednesday.

The winner gets $50,000 -- about the same amount Fred Couples gets for each hole he wins in the Skins Game -- but the payoff is more than money. The top 30 and ties earn PGA Tour cards for the 2005 season.

The final field has 170 players, who will play six pressure-packed rounds on the TPC Stadium Course and the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

That includes 21 past PGA Tour champions, a former U.S. Open champion (Scott Simpson), two former U.S. Amateur champions (Bubba Dickerson and Jeff Quinney) and three guys who have played in the Ryder Cup (Simpson, Ken Green, Jim Gallagher Jr.).

One player sure to attract plenty of attention is Bill Haas.

The 23-year-old son of Jay Haas had a chance to earn his card through sponsor exemptions, made it through the second stage at tough Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula, and now has a chance to give the PGA Tour the first father-son duo since Jack and Gary Nicklaus in 2000.

Nicklaus was 60 when he came out of semiretirement and played eight PGA Tour events, including all four majors for the final time. Jay Haas doesn't know the meaning of retirement. At age 50, he was 27th on the PGA Tour money list this year and played in the Ryder Cup.

Two other players will seek vindication from horrific experiences, the kind that define the Q-school.

It starts with Jaxon Brigman, a 33-year-old from Abilene, Texas, who shot 65 on the final day in 1999 at Doral to earn his card on the number.

But only after he signed his scorecard did Brigman noticed the guy keeping his card put him down for a 4 on the par-4 13th instead of a 3. Under the rules of golf, Brigman had to accept the higher score, and he missed his card by one shot.

Another hard-luck case is Tim O'Neal, who can join Tiger Woods as the only blacks on the PGA Tour.

O'Neal, who played at Jackson State, was poised to get to the big leagues five years ago. He was 17-under with two holes to play and had two shots to spare.

He gave one away with a bogey on the 17th. Then he drove into a hazard, took a drop and hit into a bunker. Needing to get up-and-down to earn a PGA Tour card, O'Neal blasted over the green, chipped on and two-putted for triple bogey.

This is his first trip back to the final stage of Q-school.

The final stage of LPGA Tour qualifying also starts Wednesday, and it will be 90 holes for the first time, played on the Legends and Champions courses at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The 138-woman field includes a Sorenstam -- Charlotta, not Annika -- and Beth Bauer, who was the LPGA Tour rookie of the year just two years ago.

The focus is on two teenagers: Paula Creamer, who hasn't graduated high school but likely will turn pro if she finishes in the top 30; and Brittany Lincicome, the first-round leader at the U.S. Women's Open.

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