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A bad sign for Brigman

Most of the golf world will be watching Tiger Woods this week at Pebble Beach, wondering whether he can win a sixth consecutive PGA Tour tournament.

Jaxon Brigman wishes he could be there. In fact, he should be there. Instead, he will be in Gainesville for the Florida Classic, the season-opening tournament on the Tour (formerly Nike).

This is where those who are not quite good enough for the PGA Tour go to play. It is a proving ground for aspiring pros, a place to hone their skills for small purses in front of sparse crowds.

By all rights, Brigman should not be a part of this scene. In November, he shot the scores necessary at the Qualifying Tournament to earn his PGA Tour card. Everyone who was there knows it. Scoreboards and scorers confirmed it.

But Brigman committed a cardinal sin among golfers: He signed an incorrect scorecard. According to the rules of golf, a player who signs for a higher score must accept that score.

So instead of earning his PGA Tour card by one shot, Brigman dropped back one place. Instead of the bright lights of the PGA Tour, he will play in obscurity on the Tour and try to earn his way back to where he knows he belongs.

"People look at you in a different way," said Brigman, 28, of Abilene, Texas. "It's almost like people don't know what to say. It's like dealing with someone who's had a death in the family."

On the final day of Q-School on Nov. 22, Brigman shot 5-under-par 65 at Doral, which gave him a total of 8 under par, the exact number needed to make the cutoff of top 35 players and ties.

But Brigman's playing partner, Jay Hobby, wrote 4 on Brigman's scorecard for the 13th hole; Brigman had actually made a birdie 3. Brigman signed the card, not realizing it added up to an incorrect 66.

After his round, Brigman was a jumble of emotions. He had missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole, one he thought could have cost him his PGA card. When going over his scorecard, he checked his score in relation to par by adding the circles (birdies) and squares (bogeys), rather than adding the hole-by-hole numbers. Hobby did the same thing, as did, Brigman said, the PGA official on site. The tour rules official did not catch the mistake until Brigman left the scoring area. It was too late.

Brigman blames no one but himself.

"That's been a part of the game forever," he said. "That's almost like hitting a shot. You've got to sign your card right. That's part of the mental part of the game. Once you're done, you're done."

The good news is that Brigman earned a full exemption to the Tour, something he had not done in six years as a pro. And if he finishes among the top 15 money-winners, he can get to the PGA Tour for 2001.

"Maybe it will be better this way," he said. "Maybe I wasn't ready for the tour this year. Maybe, when and if I do get my card, I'll be more prepared."

RECORD RUN: Byron Nelson will be watching this week's Pebble Beach tournament closely. It was Nelson who set the PGA Tour record of 11 straight victories in 1945. Woods will be going for his sixth straight, which would match the second-best streak of all time. Ben Hogan won six in a row in 1948.

"I'm not going to get nervous," said Nelson, who will celebrate his 88th birthday on Friday. "I'm not going to be nervous if he gets to nine or 10. I've had mine, and I've enjoyed it. If somebody does better, more power to him."

In fact, Nelson said, he's probably getting more attention now than he did in the midst of his streak.

AROUND GOLF: Many golf fans were surprised to see final results of the Senior Skins Game in Sunday's paper, even though the conclusion of the event was scheduled for that day. And ABC-TV, which televised the tournament won by Gary Player over Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, did little to clear up the confusion. For the first time, the event was played in one day, with the conclusion tape-delayed. But ABC even went so far as to have the players change shirts after the network went off the air on Saturday so it would appear as if it were not the same day of play on Sunday. The United States Golf Association has raised the purse of the U.S. Women's Open to $2.75-million, nearly $1-million more than the next-highest purse on the LPGA Tour. Lee Elder will be honored by the Golf Writers Association of America at the Masters. This is the 25th anniversary of Elder becoming the first black player in the tournament.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.