PGA Tour returns to Alabama with stars across the pond

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) David Toms figures some of the younger guys on the PGA Tour have a strong chance at the Barbasol Championship.

The biggest names are at the British Open this week, giving an up-and-comer a better chance for a breakthrough performance at the inaugural event that starts Thursday at Grand National’s Lake Course. The 7,302-yard, par-71 course is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

”For some of those guys, it’s a week for them to position themselves, whether it’s trying to get a tour card for next year or securing a spot, whatever it might be,” said Toms, whose 13 wins include the 2001 PGA Championship. ”It’s very important for some of the younger players.”

He’s one of five major champions competing in Alabama, along with Lucas Glover, Trevor Immelman, Shaun Micheel and Mike Weir.

The highest-ranked player in the world at Grand National is Emiliano Grillo at No. 98.

It’s the first PGA Tour event in Alabama since the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham. Two players who will compete in Opelika played in that tournament. Billy Mayfair tied for fifth and Robert Gamez tied for 49th. Arnold Palmer missed the cut 25 years ago, but grandson Sam Saunders will try to do better at Grand National.

The field also includes some players with local ties, including three current or former standouts for neighboring Auburn University. Fortmer Auburn player Patton Kizzire is coming off a 7-under 64 in the final round of the Boise Open and lead the Web.com Tour money list.

This is a homecoming for the Montgomery native.

”I’m excited to have my family, people from my home state and friends from college and from all around the state that can watch me play pretty close to home,” Kizzire said. ”It’s going to be really exciting, there’s going to be a lot of cheering. Hopefully I can give them something to cheer for.”

Rookie Blayne Barber also played for Auburn, and Ben Schlottman is currently a sophomore. Robby Shelton and Michael Thompson are former Alabama players while Heath Slocum went to South Alabama. Zach Sucher and Will Wilcox are UAB products.

”It’s just great to play at a place you’re comfortable and somewhere you’ve been a lot,” said Barber, who has three top-10 finishes this year. ”My wife and I live 10 minutes from here in Auburn so it’s nice to stay in my own bed this week and play some golf.”

Wilcox even worked at a local pizza place making dough for $5.15 an hour in 2006. He’s doing better these days, earning about $611,000 this season.

He says he’ll have aunts, uncles, friends from his Birmingham hometown and maybe even some cousins with a rare chance to see him play in person.

”Not a lot of family have been able to watch me play other than my mom my sister and my dad, so it will be awesome,” Wilcox said.