- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Golf has a new magic number.

This one is found in the world ranking, not on a scorecard. For all the talk over the last six months about who’s No. 1, what really matters in this era of global golf is being safe within the top 50.

Chad Campbell understand that as well as anyone.

For the better part of four years, Campbell was a regular among the top 50 in the world, and it made life easy. He could count on playing the four majors, three World Golf Championships, the invitation tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. With few exceptions, he could play wherever and whenever he wanted.

It’s no longer that simple.

Campbell has not won since the end of 2007. Worse yet, he has plunged to No. 174 in the world.

“This year, I wasn’t in anything,” he said. “I’d like to play better so I can get in the top 50 and pick where I want to play, and build my schedule around the majors. It’s key to be exempt for them and to avoid the qualifiers, which are brutal, and which are fresh on my mind.”

Campbell made it through one qualifier Monday with a 65 that earned him a spot in the British Open. Next up is a U.S. Open qualifier on June 6. Such is the life of those who aren’t entrenched in the elite in the world ranking.

Sergio Garcia is getting a taste of what it’s like outside the top 50.

He wasn’t eligible for the World Golf Championships this year for the first time in more than a decade, and he might miss the U.S. Open and British Open for the first time in a dozen years. PGA Tour officials were prompted a month ago to make sure the Spaniard was going to add enough events to satisfy his minimum requirement of 15 events.

What’s the value of being in the top 50?

“That’s kind of the golden ticket these days,” Justin Leonard said.

Leonard joined the PGA Tour in 1994, when the world ranking was just another statistic and the World Golf Championships were only a concept that Greg Norman was trying to push through. For PGA Tour players, the money list was second in importance to winning.

“Really, you wanted to be in the top 60 or top 70, because then you knew you were in Bay Hill, Memorial and Colonial,” Leonard said. “Not a whole lot was made about the world ranking. All the criteria to get in events was off the money list or winning tournaments.”

Leonard was part of the top 50 as recently as two years ago. Now he is at No. 178 and can count on only two big events this year _ the British Open as a past champion and the Bridgestone Invitational as a member of the last Presidents Cup team.

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