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Steve Stricker in danger of falling off golf map

Steve Stricker of Madison never intended to return to PGA Tour Qualifying School this year, so he didn't bother filling out the entry form.

The decision could come back to haunt him.

Stricker, regarded as one of the game's rising stars in the mid-1990s before descending into a hellish slump from which he has yet to recover, will have to call on tournament sponsors for favors if he hopes to play in more than a dozen events in 2005.

He hit bottom last week when he missed the cut at the Chrysler Championship, the final full-field event of the season, and dropped from No. 149 to No. 151 on the money list. He finished with $440,906.

The top 125 money winners are exempt the next year and can enter any full-field event. Those finishing from 125-150 have conditional status, which limits their ability to pick and choose their schedules.

Those who finish lower than 150th have no status and must return to PGA Tour Qualifying School.

"I'm not going to Q School," Stricker said Monday. "I didn't send in my entry. It wasn't an oversight. I never planned on going."

The 37-year-old Stricker made it through Q School in 1993 and never had to go back, quickly establishing himself as one of the game's top young players. He finished 50th on the money list as a rookie in 1994 and won twice in 1996.

He said he didn't want to return to Q School because "I haven't felt like my game was good enough to make it through six rounds."

He would have been exempt from first-stage qualifying but would have had to play in the second stage and, if he advanced, the six-round final stage.

Thus, Stricker has no status for 2005 except as a past champion/veteran member. He won the Kemper Open and the Motorola Western Open in 1996 and the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2001.

A PGA Tour spokesman said Stricker could expect to get in about 12 events based on his past champion status.

"I know I'll play in 10 or 12 events," he said. "Then I'll write (tournament sponsors) for some exemptions. I've kind of taken an approach that I'm going to have some time to work on my game."

Even as he struggled throughout the 2004 season, Stricker remained confident he would be able to finish among the top 150 money winners and at least retain conditional status.

But after an encouraging stretch during the summer, in which he made the 36-hole cut in six consecutive tournaments and finished fourth in the John Deere Classic, Stricker's problems returned.

He missed the cut in four of his next seven starts and went into the Chrysler Championship last week in Palm Harbor, Fla., desperate to cash a check and protect his position on the money list.

Instead, he shot 71-74 and missed the cut by three shots.

Stricker still has a superb short game and ranks third on the Tour in putts per round (28.08). His main problems have been inconsistency off the tee and eroding confidence.

Stricker has made numerous swing and equipment changes in recent years but nothing has worked.

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