Here are the key storylines for the Knoxville News Sentinel Open, which takes palce this week at Fox Den:
SCOTT PIERCY / ON THE NUMBER: 2008 Nationwide Tour "25" graduate Scott Piercy picked a good week to have his best finish of the year (T8 -- one of two in 2010) on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship. In doing so, the Las Vegas native jumped 15 spots to capture the 125th and final spot in the FedExCup standings.
Last week's No. 125, Michael Letzig, improved his position by seven spots with a T18 finish. For every winner there is a loser. Chris Stroud, 124th entering Greensboro, missed the cut and dropped three spots to No. 127. Like Piercy, Letzig and Stroud are Nationwide Tour alums. Another alum Jeff Quinneyfinished 126, missing out on the Playoffs by a mere two points or the equivalent of missing just one three-footer over the course of his last 75 rounds.
IN THE MAJORITY: The number of Nationwide Tour alumni who qualified for the 2010 PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup is up by six over last year. Eighty-four of the 125 players who will be at The Barclays this week in New Jersey are Tour alums. Last year there were 78. Seventy percent of PGA TOUR members formerly played on the Nationwide Tour.
STADION MONEY MANAGEMENT EXTENDS IN ATHENS: Stadion Money Management has extended its title sponsorship agreement of the Stadion Classic at UGA for two more years, through 2012. Dates for the 2011 event hosted by the University of Georgia in Athens are May 2-8.
ARJUN ATWAL'S FIRST PGA TOUR WIN IS ALUMNI WIN NO. 281: From Monday qualifier to the winner's circle, Arjun Atwal's career went full circle within the span of seven days last week. The 37-year-old from Asansol, India was a non-member and non-PGA TOUR winner entering the PGA TOUR's Wyndham Championship. A 7-foot par putt on the 72nd made him the first golfer from his country to win on the PGA TOUR. A veteran of 51 Nationwide Tour events, Atwal's victory was PGA TOUR win No. 281 by a player with Nationwide Tour roots.
In four 2010 Tour starts, the Windermere, Fla. resident made two cuts with T10 and T17 finishes. The week before his Wyndham Championship win he missed the cut in the Price Cutter Charity Championship in Springfield, Mo. on the Nationwide Tour. Atwal won the 2008 Chattanooga Classic and finished 17th on that year's money list propelling him back to the PGA TOUR. A 2009 shoulder injury led to performance issues and Atwal recently losing his TOUR membership.
2010 RYDER CUP IMPACT: Five of the eight players who have already earned 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team berths are Nationwide Tour alumni : Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Jeff Overton and Matt Kucher. Of the next 10 on the points list, eight are also alumni.
SPEAKING OF BUBBA: Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim will be featured on this week's ABC episode of Shaq Vs. at 9 p.m. ET. on Tuesday (Aug. 24). Shaquille O'Neal will challenge Charles Barkley in a golf competition at the Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point, Calif. Watson will support Barkley with tips and instruction with Kim serving the same role for O'Neal. In Shaq Vs. the NBA legend strives to become a champion in a new sporting event each week. In one recent episode, Shaq challenged Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a stock car race.
SPRINT TO THE FINISH : The Nationwide Tour enters the final 1/3 of the year this week. The Knoxville News Sentinel Open begins a run of 10 straight tournaments that will culminate at the season's finale, the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island in Charleston, S.C., in late October (28-31). Through the first 19 tournaments last year, the players who were 1-15 on the money list all finished among "The 25". Of the next 10, however, only three earned their PGA TOUR cards. Four of the casualties were tournament winners. Prize money over the final 10 events is comparable to last year's.
NEW SPONSOR, NEW LOOK IN KNOXVILLE: The Nationwide Tour's event in the Volunteer state of Tennessee has a new sponsor and a new momentum. In June, the Knoxville News Sentinel came on board as title sponsor of one of the Nationwide Tour's four original events that are still on the Tour schedule dating back to 1990 (Boise, Idaho, Springfield, Mo. and Wichita, Kan.).
FORMER PGA CHAMPS HEAD TO KNOXVILLE: John Daly (1991) and Rich Beem (2002), past winners of the PGA Championship, are scheduled to be in the Knoxville News Sentinel Open field. Daly, who shot 64 on Sunday in Greensboro, will be playing his second Nationwide Tour event of 2010, having finished T22 in the Fort Smith Classic in his native Arkansas in June. Prior to Fort Smith, his last Tour appearance was in February 1991, six months before he captured the PGA. Beem will be making his Nationwide Tour debut. His last start was the PGA TOUR's Shell Houston Open in April. The Arizona native has been recovering from a herniated disc.
HUNTER HAAS COMES TO TOWN WITH GOOD VIBES: Hunter Haas comes to Knoxville riding the wave of his third Nationwide Tour victory (Price Cutter Charity Championship, Springfield, Mo.) following a week of celebration and rest. The Fort Worth, Texas native and Oklahoma Sooner's other two victories both came in Knoxville (2004, 2006). He is one of only eight Nationwide Tour players to win the same tournament twice. "My wife wishes we played here (Knoxville) 30 weeks a year," Haas said recently.
NO. 4 CHRIS KIRK IS KNOXVILLE NATIVE: Chris Kirk, who is currently No. 4 on the Nationwide Tour money list, was born in Knoxville in 1985. Two years ago, the two-time first-team All-American out of the University of Georgia was a playoff runner-up in Knoxville to Australian Jarrod Lyle. Kirk finished T28 last year. The winner of this year's Fort Smith Classic resides in St. Simons Island, Ga. Scott Stallings is another player with ties to Knoxville.
The Massachusetts native went to high school in nearby Oak Bridge, graduated from Tennessee Tech in 2007 and lives in Knoxville. Currently 40th on the money list, he is in his first full season on the Nationwide Tour.
IRON MEN: There have been 19 Nationwide Tour events thus far in 2010. Fourteen players have competed in all 19 with James Hahn (15th), Justin Hicks (16th) and Keegan Bradley (25th) the top money winners among the group. Last year, not one player played all 29 tournaments. Eight played 28 times, including Hicks. There are 29 tournaments on this year's schedule.
JOKESTER: Ben Bates is a true veteran of the Nationwide Tour. He will be playing in Knoxville for the 14th time this year having been granted a sponsor exemption. He has plenty of fond memories and good stories about Knoxville and most of the Tour's other stops. One involved a rookie initiation prank he pulled on Josh Broadaway at the Springfield, Mo. drive-thru zoo. "We pulled in and the first thing we see is a 12-foot ostrich," Bates told the Knoxville News Sentinel at the tournament's recent media day.
"I rolled down Josh's window and made sure it was on childlock. We had food in the car and that thing comes right over to Josh and sticks its head in there. Josh cussed me out pretty good about that." Bates continued, "I've been coming here (Knoxville) since 1990. It's like home to me. I have friends here that I've met through the years who have become genuine, long-time, life-time friends."
BIRTHDAY BOYS: Celebrating birthdays in Knoxville will be Bradley Iles (Aug. 23 / turns 27), Todd Fischer (Aug. 23 / 41), Adam Meyer (Aug. 25 / 28), Adam Bland (Aug. 26 / 28) and Chad Ginn (Aug. 28 / 40).
NEXT WEEK: It's north to Pittsburgh for the inaugural Mylan Classic presented by CONSOL Energy at Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg (Sept. 2-5).