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Devil Ball Golf

PGA Tour dangles ’12 exemption over Justin Leonard’s head

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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Ah, the PGA Tour. You never fail to knot yourself up in bureaucratic tangles of your own making, do you?

Get this. A few weeks ago, Justin Leonard talked to the PGA Tour and learned that he was exempt for 2012. He wasn't quite sure how, seeing as how he hadn't won in three years and his major exemption, a 10-year hitch for winning the British Open in 1997, had faded away before anyone knew what a Rickie Fowler was.

And so, on Friday afternoon, after completing a round that left him tied at the top of the Children's Miracle Network Classic, Leonard, who sits at 144 on the money list, appeared at ease, not worrying about having to get into the top 125 to hang around.

"I'm exempt for next year, so I'm not playing with that kind of pressure," he said afterward. "I don't know how, I just am. No, I gave the same look to the telephone. 'How is this guy still exempt?'"

Eyebrows raised at that comment, and before long, Leonard and several reporters realized that he might not be exempt after all.

Thing is, it's not like he'd be bounced back to Q School (whose entry deadline has passed, by the way). As CBS's Steve Elling notes, he ranks 10th all-time in career earnings, and could use earnings exemptions to stay on. But since he's only 39, he doesn't want to waste those just yet if he's still got the ability to play into the top 125. Here's Elling's take of what happened next at the media center:

"I just ate and now I am going to go throw up," Leonard said as he walked into the hallway.

While awaiting a verdict, Leonard was spotted in his courtesy car, talking in animated fashion on his cell phone. He had planned to join his family at one of the Disney theme parks -- he has four kids -- and instead was on a white-knuckle ride without leaving the parking lot.

After nearly three hours of waiting, the PGA Tour both confirmed his exemption and came up with an explanation: he received an extra year of exemption for every win he had after his 1997 British Open exemption ended. Thanks to that, he's now safe through 2012.

Look, there's not much need to feel sorry for the guy here, but it's a shame that the PGA Tour can't even figure out how to outline its own rules in a succinct fashion. Still, Leonard now knows he's got to step up his game in '12, one way or another.

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