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Greenbrier Classic: Event a can't miss for defending champion Stallings

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- There are some tournaments on the PGA Tour players don't want to miss, like the majors - U.S. Open, Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.

Count the Greenbrier Classic for defending champion Scott Stallings, who endured regular and, almost overwhelming therapy sessions to be healthy for his return to the Old White TPC.

"The year's been less than ideal," said Stallings, who injured his ribs and back this year after earning his first PGA Tour victory with a playoff on No. 18 at the 2011 Greenbrier Classic. "I played four tournaments healthy the whole season and with the rib injury in January and then I herniated a low disk in my back in Hartford, kind of completely out of nowhere."

His back injury occurred on an airplane.

"I kind of fell asleep in a funky position and just kind of a comedy of errors when it comes to injuries this year," he said.

Stallings played the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, where he finished T22, then missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He suffered a rib injury and was forced to withdraw from the Humana Challenge in Partnership with the Clinton Foundation.

In his next 13 tournaments, Stallings missed 10 cuts and finished no higher than 25th in any of the others.

He also was a scratch at the two tournaments prior to the Greenbrier Classic - the Travelers Championship and AT&T National.

Stallings played through the Masters April 5-8 with help of medication, but it was a matter of survival, not necessarily winning.

"I played the Masters on purely pain medicine," Stallings said. "I was just trying to get through. Obviously you don't want to play every week like that, but I wasn't going to miss the Masters. If you look at the two tournaments directly after the Masters (RBC Heritage and Zurich Classic of New Orleans), I played awful and I think it was directly a result of trying to play without it and the realization that wasn't necessarily possible.

"I've never really dealt with injury before, let alone two just completely out of nowhere, really no fault of my own or no fault of anybody else's."

He finished T27 at the Masters, shooting a respectable 70-73 over the weekend. However, the next week - without pain medication - he shot 80-74 to miss the cut and followed that the next week with an 80-77. The back-to-back 80s, not by coincidence, mark his worst first-round performances in the PGA or Web.com (formerly Nationwide) tours. At the Wells Fargo championship one week later, he shot a 77 in the first round, which was his worst score since shooting a 78 in the first round of the 2007 Knoxville Open on the Web.com Tour.

There seemed to be no end in sight.

"I always had this tournament (Greenbrier Classic) in mind and I learned a big lesson dealing with the rib injury that I had at Humana and I kept trying to play and not really finding out the whole story what was really going on," Stallings said. "I withdrew from Hartford (Travelers), came home, had an MRI, saw a spine specialist, just made sure there wasn't anything that was going to be real serious to deal with.

"We had, I think, 13 or 14 therapy sessions in seven days. Everything worked its way out the way we wanted it to and we didn't have to do any drastic measures."

Last year, Stallings birdied the par 3 No. 18 hole at the Old White TPC to force a playoff with Bill Haas and Bob Estes. Then, after running to the tee for the playoff back at No. 18, he birdied it again to claim his first Tour win.

After the tournament, he opted to stay the night at the Greenbrier before flying to Akron for the Bridgestone Invitational.

"I came down and cleared out my locker and said, 'Man, I'm going to go over there and just check out 18.' I was in shorts and a T-shirt and flip-flops and just kind of walking down there. They were having a Pro-Am for sponsors and vendors and there was a group of guys on 18."

Oddly, Stallings wasn't the most recognizable figure in White Sulphur Springs less than 24 hours after winning the Greenbrier Classic.

"They said, 'Do you realize there's a tournament going on today?' They said, kind of more or less, what was I doing there. I said, 'Well guys, I changed my life on this green yesterday.'

"Then, one of the guys recognized me and we ended up taking pictures and that kind of stuff."

Even after flipping his golf club in celebration following the final birdie of the 2011 Greenbrier Classic, Stallings said the Monday morning after was one of his best memories of last year's tournament.

"It was really cool to be there when there was 30,000 people around the green to when there was five of us," he said.

Stallings will tee off from the No. 1 tee on Thursday with 2010 champion Stuart Appleby and Phil Mickelson.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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