Top stars aim for playoffs in Greensboro

By this point in the season last year, Camilo Villegas had won the Honda Classic and piled up five top-10s, including a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship. But in December he lost his caddie, Brett Waldman, who quit to follow his own dream of playing the PGA Tour. Waldman made it to the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School, where he earned a full exemption on the Nationwide Tour. Since their split, Villegas has struggled and missed the cut in half of his 20 finishes this year, earning just one top-10.

Coming into this week's Wyndham Championship, he sits in the 125th position, the last spot to get into the FedEx playoffs. His place was so secure in the playoffs last year that he took off the week between the PGA and the start of the playoffs at the Barclays.

But now Villegas and a host of other big names arrive at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro with hopes that this usually low-key event on the schedule will give them a chance of making it into the four-tournament playoffs with the $10 million payoff to the winner.

Included on that list of hopefuls outside the top 125 are major champions Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera and Justin Leonard. Tiger Woods is practically the only big name not in the field who's outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings.

The players already in the playoffs want to play well here to improve their standing. So it should be an exciting week as the par-70 venue where Arjun Atwal shot 20-under to win last year will surely give up a lot of birdies.

The women are playing the Safeway Classic at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore. With such a small schedule, every week on the LPGA Tour is like a major: 29 of the top 30 players on 2011 money list are in the field.

This week is the 40th anniversary of the tournament. That's cause for celebration for a tour that has seen sponsors fall like flies in the past several years.

Ai Miyazato is the defending champion, but the favorite to win this year and every time she tees it up is Yani Tseng, who has four wins this season, including two major championships, and nine top-10s. Stacey Lewis and Brittney Lincicome are the only two Americans this season to win on the LPGA Tour.

The U.S. Solheim Cup team will be announced following the Safeway, with the top 10 players in the Solheim Cup standings as automatic selections. Then U.S. captain Rosie Jones will add two captain's picks to complete her 12-player team that will meet the Europeans in Ireland from Sept. 21 to 23. Wendy Ward, Pat Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, Katie Futcher, Vicky Hurst and Kristy McPherson are American names that are lurking just outside the top 10 coming into this week. In the 11th spot, Futcher, a 30-year-old former Penn State star, has a good chance of overtaking Christina Kim, who holds the 10th spot by a very slim margin.

No matter what happens this week, I expect Jones to pick veterans Pat Hurst and Ward to give some experience to her already-loaded squad that will include Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Juli Inkster and Lincicome. But I wouldn't be surprised to see her go younger and pick Vicky Hurst and McPherson, who was a strong emotional presence on the 2009 team that beat the Europeans 16-12.

Gulbis, always a fan favorite, is 41st on the money list and hasn't had a top-10 all year. It would probably take a win for her to make the team. At 51, Inkster could be competing in the biennial matches for the last time.

The Champions Tour is holding its fifth and final major, the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., once a stalwart on the PGA Tour schedule. Tom Lehman, who leads the Schwab Cup, headlines this field of 50-somethings who are very familiar with the West Course on this classic Walter Travis design.

Players can earn double points this week toward the season-long Schwab Cup. Lehman has narrow leads over Olin Browne and Mark Calcavecchia.

Jay Haas is entering the tournament coming off his first win in two years on the Champions Tour. His win two weeks ago at the 3M Championship was his 15th on the over-50 circuit. In 2009, Haas won the Senior Players when it was held at the Baltimore Country Club. Mark O'Meara, the defending Senior Players champion, is 10th in the Schwab Cup standings.

There are six players in the field who have won PGA Tour events at the Westchester C.C., including Hale Irwin, who at 66 has shot his age twice this season. Irwin won the Senior Players in 1999 and the Buick Classic at Westchester in 1990.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com