Still plenty to play for on tour

Much of the drama is missing, thanks to Vijay Singh.

A year ago, as the PGA Tour season concluded, a handful of players were still in contention for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, as well as the money title. Singh already has both wrapped up.

But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty at stake as the last four full-field events unfold during the next month beginning with this week's Michelin Championship at Las Vegas.

Ask any of the players hovering outside the top 125 on the money list.

Ask any of the players not in the top 40, or the top 30, or the top 20.

As the long season winds down, dozens of players will be fighting for any number of things. It might not get the attention of the No. 1 ranking, or the No. 1 spot on the money list. But to them, it might be just as important.

While Singh and Ernie Els, the new No. 2 in the World Ranking, do battle this week at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland -- the first of four expected head-to-head matchups between the two to end the season and determine who is No. 1 for the near future -- many of the PGA Tour's rank and file are assembled in Las Vegas, hoping to take advantage of the opening.

And now, every advantage is key.

What's at stake?

The Tour Championship: The top 30 on the money list through the Chrysler Championship on Oct. 31 earn a spot in the prestigious season-ending event. There is no cut at the tournament to be played at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, meaning a big payday for those who qualify for the event with a $6 million purse.

U.S. Open and British Open: For those not already exempt, a finish among the top 30 money winners gets a spot in the U.S. Open. A top 20 finish is required for an invite to the British Open.

Masters: For players not already invited to Augusta National next spring, finishing among the top 40 money winners is another way to get in the year's first major.

Invitationals: Those who finish among the top 70 money winners assure themselves spots in the speciality events such as the Bay Hill Invitational, Colonial and Memorial.

Top 125: This is where jobs are at stake. In order to be fully exempt next season and able to gain entry into any full-field event, a player must finish among the top 125 money winners. Scott Hend is in 125th position right now, just $7,000 ahead of Dean Wilson. A strong finish this week gives them some security.

Top 150: For those who don't finish among the top 125, ending up between 126th and 150th is a small consolation. Those players get a free pass to the finals of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, where they can attempt to earn one of 30 tour cards and improve their ranking. And players in this position will still have limited status next year.

Out of the top 150: These players will have no status on the PGA Tour in 2004, unless they are past winners of a tournament. And in order to regain their cards, they will have to make it through two stages of the qualifying tournament.

And time is running out.

Five Things To Bank On
1. Players will be thrilled that this week's Michelin Championship at Las Vegas has been reduced to a 72-hole event, especially the 11 who played last week in Ireland. This used to be one of two tournaments on tour that had a five-day pro-am format. (Bob Hope is the other.) This year it has cut back a day.

2. If Jim Furyk is to keep his streak alive of victories in consecutive seasons, this is the place to do it. Furyk has won three times in Vegas, including his first win in 1995. Furyk began the year with wins in six straight seasons, second only to Tiger Woods, who has lengthened his streak to nine straight. Furyk has played in just 10 tournaments due to March wrist surgery.

3. Rory Sabbatini is another player who loves Las Vegas. He has three top-10s in his past three visits and has shot 12 of his last 15 rounds under 70.

4. Refreshed after a week off, Craig Stadler will attempt to make some history on the Champions Tour. He can become the first player since Chi Chi Rodriguez to win four consecutive starts when he plays at this week's Administaff Small Business Classic near Houston. Stadler has five victories this year.

5. The pressure will be on at the LPGA's Asahi Ryokuken International in North Augusta, S.C. This is the last full-field event of the year and players need to finish among the top 90 money winners in order to gain full exempt status for 2005. Those who finish from 91st to 125th will have conditional status, but can return to the LPGA Qualifying tournament Dec. 1-5 to try and improve their position.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.