7 Scottsdale Pros in TOUR Championship

With the downfall of Tiger Woods and “off years’’ by name players like Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Lucas Glover and Angel Cabrera, to name a few, opportunity has come knocking at this week’s TOUR Championship for Scottsdale’s “Magnificent Seven’’ – Paul Casey, Martin Laird, Geoff Ogilvy, Bubba Watson, Tim Clark, Ryan Moore and Kevin Streelman.

Seriously, I don’t remember a TOUR Championship where seven of the 30 elite entries at elegant East Lake Golf Club near Atlanta hailed from Arizona. That’s more than 20 percent of the field from the Grand Canyon State, and it is a sign of more big things to come in 2011. And four of those guys – Casey, Laird, Moore and Streelman – are playing in the $7.5 million event for the first time ever.

Leading the way is Casey, the former Arizona State star who for some reason or other is about as unpopular in Europe as he is at the Phoenix Open, a tournament he turns down every year in lieu of the bizarre landscape of Dubai.

According to an in-depth story in The Scotsman of Scotland, the chief reason Casey was recently snubbed by Euro’s egomaniac Ryder Cup captain, Colin Montgomerie, is because his compatriots don’t like Casey. In fact, one of his former European Ryder Cup teammates was quoted as saying in The Scotsman story: “Paul’s toys were forever being thrown from his (crib). He was such a baby.’’

There even is speculation that if the ailing Lee Westwood can’t play in the Ryder Cup due to a calf injury that hasn’t gotten much better, that Monty will look past Casey and pick Justin Rose to fill Westwood’s shoes. At least that was the view of The Scotsman.

Despite being Europe’s ugly “part-time’’ American, Casey has had a wonderful season even if he hasn’t won while falling from No. 3 in the world to No. 7. With six top-10s this year, including a runner-up in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and a T3 in the British Open, PC will surpass his best season this week by a whopping $1 million (or more). And don’t be surprised if he hits the $10 million jackpot that will go to the winner of the FedEx Cup on Sunday, as his No. 5 position in the season-ending standings gives him a real shot at winning golf’s greatest annual annuity.

Also having a breakthrough type season is Martin Laird, the “Scotsman from Scottsdale.’’ Laird, who at 27 seems to be coming into his own, has a chance to jump almost 50 spots on the money list from a year ago. Now that he’s found his groove, expect Laird, who ranks No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings, to be around for the next 10 to 15 years, he’s that good.

Sitting in the No. 12 position is Geoff Ogilvy, who has had a pretty average to below average season, at least by his standards. The Aussie looked like this might be his career year when he won the season-opening SBS Championship in Hawaii. But mediocrity followed, which is why Ogilvy will have his worst season, money-wise, in five years. Hey, it happens to the best of them, just ask Phil Mickelson, who ranks no better than No. 10 this week despite winning the Masters earlier this year.

Watson, who broke through for his first PGA Tour triumph in 2010, is No. 18 on the FedEx list and even more important to him, playing in his first Ryder Cup in two weeks at Celtic Manor in Wales. Now No. 25 in the world, these are new heights for the big-booming Bubba, who already has accumulated over $3 million – or half as much money as he won in his previous five seasons.

Tim Clark, the little South African who is No. 21 going into the FedEx Cup, also won for the very first time in 2010. Clark has been a picture of consistency, while rising into the top 20 in the world only to fall back to No. 30. This also will be Clark’s best season money-wise, as he has racked up $3.2 million. He’s already won the $7.5 million Players Championship, so why not the other big-money payout?

Sitting in the No. 26 spot but with plenty left in the tank after finishing T3 two weeks ago at the BMW Championship in Chicago is Moore, “The Natural’’ that finally seems to be living up to his nickname at age 27. Moore is $100,000 – a pittance when it comes to the TOUR Championship – from eclipsing his breakthrough season of a year ago when he won for the first time. After overcoming a long list of injuries, Moore could become an impact player at any moment.

If more people knew what a good guy he really is, Streelman would be a superstar, he’s got that type of personality. The winner of last year’s $1 million jackpot in the Kodak Challenge – his biggest claim to fame so far – the experts are in agreement that the 31-year-old Streelman’s best days are ahead of him. He’s just so quiet, however, as evidenced by the fact he’s won at least $1 million or more in all three of his seasons in the big leagues and who would have known?

There are others from Arizona who have had fantastic years, most notably Ricky Barnes, who looks like the Scottsdale pro is finally here to stay after earning nearly $1.8 million, which ranks him No. 41 on the money list. Scottsdale’s Bryce Molder ($1.4 million, No. 54), another Scottsdale pro, Matt Jones ($1.2 million, No. 66), and Gilbert’s Robert Garrigus ($717,465, No. 112) also will be around to further their careers on the PGA Tour in 2011.

But what’s really special for Scottsdale’s “Magnificent Seven’’ is that by finishing in the top 30 and competing this week in the TOUR Championship, all are exempt into next year’s four major championships. That will be a first for Laird, Watson, Moore and Streelman, which stamps them into the game’s marquee group that already included Casey, Ogilvy and Clark.

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