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Charlottean misses on PGA exemption

At the end of every PGA Tour season, the top 125 finishers on the year's money list are fully exempt for the following season.

Charlotte's Johnson Wagner finished 126th.

Wagner came into the season's final event - the Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - figuring he needed to finish no worse than a tie for third to salvage his season and his status for 2011. He was 153rd on the money list when the final event began.

Sunday, Wagner played his first 14 holes 7-under par, including a hole-out eagle at the par-4 14th, and was in good enough position that he wasn't thinking about finishing third.

"I was thinking let's go win this thing," Johnson said Monday.

Wagner felt like he hadn't felt in a long time, full of confidence like he had back when he dominated the Nationwide Tour in 2006. It was like when he won the Shell Houston Open in 2008 on the PGA Tour, landed in the Masters the next week and won $1.4 million that season.

Then golf's cruel side intruded.

Wagner blocked his tee shot into a water hazard on the 16th hole, leading to a double bogey. He made two solid pars coming in and wound up tied for third and thought it would be enough.

"On the last hole, I had it 30 feet for birdie and knew making that putt would do it," Wagner said. "I ran it 5 feet past and, at that point, I still thought making the putt would get me in.

"Standing over that 5-footer, my hands were shaking violently. But somehow the ball found the bottom of the cup. I hadn't felt like that since I won Houston."

Instead of squeezing into the last fully exempt spot, Wagner wound up $31,175 short of the 125th spot, changing his offseason plans. He will now tee it up in the final stage of the PGA Tour's qualifying school in early December in California, trying to regain his fully exempt status.

Wagner will still play the PGA Tour schedule next year, but, unless he improves his position with a high finish at tour school, he won't get to pick his spots, particularly early in the year. He still has limited status on the tour, which means he'll likely have to wait until later in the year to get into tournaments when fully exempt players don't take up all the spots.

If he finishes among the top 25 at tour school finals, Wagner's status for 2011 will improve.

But regardless, he'll still be on the big tour.

"I feel like I can go win the Q-school," Wagner said. "Finishing in the top 25 there would definitely help."

After two years of working on his swing, Wagner said he feels comfortable with it in competition now. When the putts started to fall last week, Wagner developed a sense of momentum.

"I had some confidence back," Wagner said. "My game is so great right now. I'm looking forward to next year already.

"It's unfortunate (to be No.126) because I had it in my grasp. But it was one of the better Sundays I've played on tour and I'm happy with the way things went.

"My agent said he's never been so happy to have someone finish 126th on the money list. It was a great end of the year for me and I take away nothing but positives."