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Making a cup team no longer worth 2-year exemption

Associated Press

Trevor Immelman came within a 10-foot putt of winning the Wachovia Championship, a tournament he might not have been able to play except for a Presidents Cup perk that no longer exists.

The PGA Tour began offering a two-year exemption in 2004 to anyone on the previous Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams, provided they had some degree of tour membership.

More times than not, anyone good enough to make either team had no trouble keeping his card, although there were exceptions. Paul Azinger was picked in 2001 to play in a Ryder Cup that was rescheduled to 2002, and he was able to play in 2004 on that exemption after finishing 169th on the money list.

But what really infuriated players was the case of Immelman.

He tied for 17th in the PGA Championship to earn just enough money for special temporary membership. Later that day, Gary Player made him as a captain's pick for the International team, even though Immelman was 22nd in the standings.

It smacked of preferential treatment, not only because Player and Immelman are South Africans, but because Immelman's father is commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. And just like that, he was exempt for two years on the PGA Tour.

"I think it's more important to win a golf tournament for a two-year exemption than it is to make one of those teams to get the exemption, or even theoretically be a captain's pick," Jim Furyk said after his playoff victory at Quail Hollow.

Furyk wasn't alone in his complaints.

The criticism was so strong that the tour's policy board rescinded the exemption in May last year. Because it was in the middle of Presidents Cup qualifying, the perk wasn't taken off the books until this year. That means the exemption is effective this year for Ryder Cup players, and through 2007 for Presidents Cup players.

Nick O'Hern of Australia also has a two-year exemption, although he earned his spot on the International team. Tim Clark of South Africa finished 21st on the money list last year and already has earned $1.4 million this year, so he didn't need the exemption.

But it also has helped some Americans.

Jay Haas, 52, is splitting time on the PGA and Champions Tour this year. He only has his PGA Tour card because Hal Sutton picked him for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2004. Chris Riley finished 184th on the money list last year, but kept his card by making the '04 team.

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SKINS ALIVE: The Skins Game no longer has Tiger Woods under contract, but at least it has new life.

LG Electronics has signed a three-year agreement to become the title sponsor of the Skins Game, the original event in the silly season that will be held Thanksgiving weekend at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta and televised by ABC Sports.

"This relationship ensures that the LG Skins Game will remain part of our Thanksgiving viewing menu during the holiday weekend, much as it has been over the last two-plus decades," said Pete Derzis, general manger of ESPN Regional Television.

Fred Funk is the defending champion, wearing a pink skirt last year after Annika Sorenstam drove past him on one hole. Also eligible to play is Stephen Ames after winning The Players Championship. The rest of the field will be determined later.

Woods played four of the last five years at the Skins Game under an endorsement deal that expired last year.

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TEXAS SLAM: Bob Estes knows it isn't nearly as big as the Grand Slam, but he says the Texas Slam means a lot to him and other natives of the Lone Star State.

"I think every player that grew up in the state of Texas would love to win all four events here," Estes said after finishing six shots behind Stuart Appleby in the Houston Open. "Even someone like Tom Kite ... didn't win any of the Texas events. So that tells you how tough it is when he grew up in the state of Texas and playing these kinds of courses and in that kind of wind."

At least eight players have captured three legs of the current Texas Slam, including three natives — Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Ben Crenshaw. Nelson didn't have much of a chance to win the Colonial, which began in 1948 when he was heading into retirement.

The closest anyone came to the Texas Slam was Arnold Palmer. He won the Colonial, Houston Open and Texas Open, and lost in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus in 1970 at the Dallas Open.

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ON HIS OWN: Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is on a short list of stars who don't use a swing coach. The last coach he had was Sam Frost, and that was eight years ago.

Goosen is a feel player who figures it out by himself on the practice range.

And it probably will stay that way.

"There were times that I wouldn't see him for a couple of weeks, and when I did see him, it's when I just started feeling like I found my golf swing. He wants to change something, and then I'm all messed up again," Goosen said. "Eventually, you're thinking that there's constantly something wrong with your swing. When are you ever going to think that you're swinging a club well if the coach is there every day working on it?"

Goosen has won at least one time on the PGA Tour since 2001, the second-longest active streak behind Tiger Woods.

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DIVOTS: To honour his father, the Tiger Woods Foundation is creating the Earl Woods College Scholarship Fund. The idea was to provide for kids once they get through the Tiger Woods Learning Center. Foundation director Greg McLaughlin said the goal is to build the scholarship fund into the size of the Chick Evans Scholarship program run by the Western Golf Association. ... Michelle Wie has another contract endorsement, signing a two-year deal with a South Korean real estate developer. The 16-year-old from Hawaii will appear in TV and newspaper ads for ShinYoung Co. The Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported the deal was worth $3 million. ... Royal Aberdeen, the sixth-oldest golf club in the world, will host the 2011 Walker Cup matches. ... The Wachovia Championship has been decided by a playoff the last three years, the longest active streak among PGA Tour events.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Jim Furyk moved up to No. 5, the first time since Sept. 5, 2004, that someone other than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen was among the top five in the world ranking.

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FINAL WORD: "I have now. But apparently they don't work very well." — Phil Mickelson, asked if he had ever heard of a $5,000 slot machine. John Daly claims to have lost $600,000 in 30 minutes at a $5,000 slot machine in Las Vegas last year.

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