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Greenbrier Classic: Wilson fights way into field

DANIELS, W.Va. -- Chris Wilson isn't a boxer, but after one fully exempt season on the PGA Tour, he felt like one.

"I got beat up pretty well," said Wilson, who took a step Monday toward trying to regain his PGA Tour card by surviving a three-hole playoff to earn one of the four final spots in the Greenbrier Classic. "I took a few punches."

Wilson, Michael Maness, Garrett Willis and Jonathan Mills punched their tickets to this week's PGA Tour stop in White Sulphur Springs by shooting an 18-hole score of 6-under 66, then riding out a six-man playoff that didn't end until a bogey on the third by Ryan Blaum eliminated the final player.

The first one in was Mills, a former Kent State player who birdied the first playoff hole.

It took Wilson a little bit longer, but, then again, the Columbus, Ohio native has learned how to be patient. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2007 and, less than three years later, finished 12th at Qualifying school.

Suddenly, he was a PGA Tour player with very little experience or knowledge.

He said the numbers explain the situation he was in.

"I don't know what the numbers are, but somebody did a study," Wilson said.

"If you retain your Tour card and had at least one year of Nationwide Tour experience, it's like 20 percent. If you never had any status, it's like .4 percent. The 2009 Memorial was the only PGA Tour event I had played in."

In 28 Tour starts, he made only seven cuts.

The Greenbrier Classic will be his second Tour appearance this year - he also played in the Memorial where he failed to make the cut.

"I definitely wasn't ready when I first got it in 2010," Wilson said. "I had a great couple weeks at Q school. But, I had two years on the mini tours prior to that.

"That will prepare you for a certain kind of golf, but to play on the PGA Tour and even the Nationwide Tour, the courses are so much more difficult and you have to pick your spots where you'll be conservative. On the mini tours, you're being aggressive all the way around and trying to make a bunch of birdies.

"The style of play is a little bit different. I learned a lot from the last couple of years."

On Monday, Wilson had four consecutive birdies on holes 12-15 to get to 6-under and, while he failed to get that final birdie to avoid a playoff, it all worked out.

As for Maness, he has been trying to find a spot in a PGA Tour event, and came ever so close at last year's Greenbrier Classic Monday qualifier.

Maness was the caddy for Bill Haas before they split in the summer of 2011. Three weeks later, Maness was losing in a Monday qualifier playoff won by Andre Stolz. Six days later, Haas was losing in a playoff to Scott Stallings in the Greenbrier Classic.

On Thursday, the 31-year-old former South Carolina player will tee off in his first PGA Tour event.

"It's pretty cool to get in this year," Maness said. "I had a decent year this year on the eGolf with a couple top fives, maybe a top 15 here and there. The game's starting to come back around.

"I made eight birdies. I played this golf course well the last couple years. I just felt comfortable. The conditions were great. We had a little more wind this year than last year."

The other players to earn a spot were Willis, a 1996 graduate of East Tennessee State University. He has 216 PGA Tour starts to his credit, and one title - the 2001 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open.

Mills finished with a 66 in the last group to come off the course. He also was the first one to qualify for the Classic, hitting a 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.

The 34-year-old Canadian is a former Kent State teammate of British Open champion Ben Curtis. Mills twice earned his PGA Tour card - the first time, he finished fifth on the 2005 Nationwide Tour money list, but made only six of 27 cuts in 2006 and had to return to the Nationwide Tour. He finished fourth in the Nationwide money list in 2007 and returned to the PGA Tour in 2008.

This year's Greenbrier Classic field features some of the biggest names in golf, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Tom Watson. The first round begins Thursday.

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


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