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A few strokes of luck keep golfer on the tour

PGA Tour golfer Esteban Toledo, saddled by bad luck and uninspiring play this year, narrowly kept his job for 2004 _ thanks to misfortune of two other golfers in the tour's final tournament here last weekend.

Frenchman Thomas Levet stood over his ball on the par-3 17th at the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort needing just two pars to keep his PGA Tour card.

Olin Browne, on the 16th, needed to birdie one of the course's final three holes to keep his.

If either succeeded, they would knock Toledo, a grinding golfer the Times profiled Saturday, to the unemployment line.

The PGA Tour invites its top 125 golfers back for another year. Toledo, who started the final weekend at the Chrysler Championship at No. 123, had already been pushed to the limit, No. 125, after he failed to make the tournament's cut.

Levet or Browne could make Toledo No. 126. It's a slim $3,000 difference in total prize money, but in the golfing hierarchy, it's everything.

Toledo, a 41-year-old former professional boxer, had played in 35 tournaments this year to try to keep his card. But inconsistent starts and small paychecks have left him in his worst position since he began playing on the tour in earnest in 1998.

Last weekend at the season-ending Chrysler Championship, it was more disappointment.

Two poor rounds and a fit of bronchitis left Toledo helpless to affect his tour status for next year.

He needed help.

More appropriately, he needed luck.

On Sunday, maybe for the first time this year, things for Toledo went right. Levet made a bogey on 17. Browne played the final three holes in 3-over.

Their stumbles were Toledo's gain.

In the end he kept his job, by $2,918 _ and one stroke.

Toledo, who could not be reached for comment at his California home Monday, said before the tournament that he was prepared for the worst, a trip to the tour's 108-hole qualifying school next month.

If he couldn't finish in the top 30 there, he would have been without a job.

"I've made a lot of money in the past seven years," Toledo said before the tournament. "If things don't work out, I don't have to work another day in my life if I don't want to."

This time, it didn't come to that.

Toledo, a grinder who has survived much worse, will be back next year, sweating over every putt and counting every penny.

_ Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockmansptimes.com or 771-4303.

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