Five other players have been in the position Haas find himself in this week -- Chris Smith, Ryan Howison, Pate Bates, Peter OMalley and Shane Bertsch. The University of Oklahoma product also pursues another Nationwide Tour first, a successful title defense.
Haas distanced himself from the field last year shooting a final-round 69 to win by five strokes with a 19-under par score of 269.
Joining Haas this week as returning champions of the Knoxville Open are Robin Freeman (1998) and Kim Felton (2005). Last years runner up, Gary Christian, is also in the field and searching for his first win on the Nationwide Tour. The Englishman occupies the 25th spot on the money list. The top-25 money winners at seasons end will earn their PGA TOUR cards for 2008.
Leading money winner Nick Flanagan is taking another break this week in his native Australia while No. 2 Nicholas Thompson, only $17,300 off the Aussies pace, looks to regain the top position for the third time this season. Thompsons 12-year-old sister Alexis is set to make U.S. Womens Open history next week as its youngest contestant ever.
Tennessee will be well represented as a handful of players with local ties are teeing it up this week, including five-time PGA TOUR winner and 1993 Ryder Cup team member Jim Gallagher, Jr. Gallagher played his college golf at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Other players having ties to the Volunteer State include Danny Briggs (Franklin TN resident), Keith Nolan (Knoxville resident/East Tennessee State), Andrew Pratt (Knoxville resident/University of Tennessee), Mike Sposa (University of Tennessee), Scott Stallings (Tennessee Tech) and Tim Turpen (University of Tennessee).
Fox Den Country Club is a par-72, 7,045-yard layout that played to an average score of 71.6 last year. The players will be gunning for the $85,500 winners share of the $475,000 purse. The Knoxville Open is the 15th of 32 Nationwide Tour events, signaling the approach of the seasons halfway point next week at the Peakn Peek Classic in Pennsylvania.
The Knoxville Open is one of the Nationwide Tours four original tournaments dating back to 1990. Rounding out the foursome are tournaments in Springfield, MO, Wichita, KS and Boise, ID.