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2011 Greenbrier Classic champ Stallings searching for consistency

DUBLIN, Ohio - Three champions have been crowned at the Greenbrier Classic, and their differing career trajectories were on display this weekend on the Course That Jack Built.

Stuart Appleby, who fired the 59 that seized the inaugural tournament, wasn't here for this 120-man invitational. The affable Aussie is playing the PGA Tour full-time by using a career-earnings exemption; he is currently below the top 125 in the FedExCup points race. Again.

Ted Potter Jr., last year's Greenbrier winner, zipped off in a huff after finishing 6 over par for 36 holes. His season hasn't been a disaster, but he has missed seven of 15 cuts and owns just one top-10.  

Scott Stallings, who won the 2011 Classic, is best positioned to have a nice career. As he showed Sunday with a final-round 67, it could be a very nice career.

Nobody was going to catch the perpetually solid Matt Kuchar, who stayed ahead Sunday and won by two strokes. Down seven strokes after a wacky third-round 75, Stallings was not a contender.

But after a string of six birdies in seven holes, the 28-year-old native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., was briefly a stroke back at 7 under par.

It was a flashback of sorts to the Sunday of the '11 Classic. Four bogeys on the front nine left his title chances for dead, but he ripped off six birdies on the back nine and repeated his 18th-hole birdie to beat Bill Haas and Bob Estes in a playoff.

Sunday at the Memorial, Stallings' rally stalled, as Kuchar birdied the fifth and dominated from there. Still, Stallings created some buzz around the course - his gallery grew and by the 14th, he was getting applause every time he walked onto the green.

He finished the back nine with an even-par 36, which was simultaneously disappointing and impressive.

Disappointing because he barely missed two birdie putts and bogeyed the 16th and 18th. Impressive because he didn't let the round get away like he has several times this year - that wind-whipped third round Saturday, for example.

"Not every day you make five birdies and an eagle and shoot 75," he said.

In a tournament where Tiger Woods suffered two triple bogeys and finished 65th, that was about as baffling. Stallings' good work was wiped out by three bogeys, two double bogeys and a triple on that 16th, perhaps the Tour's toughest par-3.

He has had other crazy weeks. He birdied the first five holes at the Players Championship, then suffered three double bogeys and a triple bogey to miss the cut by five shots.

He could have suffered a similar disaster on the par-5, 515-yard 15th, when he pulled his drive to the left and down an embankment. He couldn't do much better on the second shot but poking it into the right rough. He had 139 yards left into a green with an unforgiving hole placement in the front.

And he had a stance issue with a sprinkler head. He figured he had the right to seek relief, and asked for a rules official. I guess they had to truck the guy in from Toledo, for he took an eternity to get there.

Stallings was allowed that drop, and got a nice break when it rolled into the first cut of rough. He missed the green to the back left, but hit a difficult chip to 101/2 feet and dropped the par putt.

To get where he wants to go, he has to keep doing that. And he can't miss 8-foot putts on the 72nd hole - he lost nearly $87,000 with that little miscue.

He has made only seven of 16 cuts this year, further speaking to his inconsistency. But he has three fourth-place finishes, two in the last two events.

In 2012, he scored his second Tour victory, the TrueSouth Classic in Madison, Miss., and it gave him another shot of confidence to get through tough times.

"It was great," he said. "It gave you a sense of accomplishment knowing that, hey, this wasn't necessarily a fluke. It's tough to win out here - everybody that's in the top 10 is a shot or two from winning. You feel very fortunate every opportunity to be out here, every single day, and you never take anything for granted."

With that attitude and a propensity to rattle off a long string of birdies, he is as fun to watch as anybody. If he curbs his disastrous stretches, he'll have a fine career.

If he does that, remember where it all started.

 

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    Other items from the Memorial:

     

  • Stallings drew a lucky break in the caddy department, gaining the temporary services of Steve Stricker's caddy, veteran Jimmy Johnson. Stricker pulled out of the tournament, and Stallings is going through a caddy change.  
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  • When play backed up on the 12th, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had an impromptu summit of the world's top two golfers. Playing in consecutive groups, you'd think this was a scenario made for Sunday at one of the PGA Tour's best stops.
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    Alas, the two combined to go 17-over for the tournament.

     

  • Stallings has to play a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier today, but so did 39 other of the 73 who made the cut this weekend. It's no small ambition for a pro to avoid "golf's longest day."
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  • The cellphone distraction issue was a point of emphasis at the Memorial, with a task force of sorts roving the course to enforce the tournament's toughened policy. The issue seemed to be solved.
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    Coincidentally or not, Phil Mickelson, who was driven to distraction and withdrawal by cellphone camera noise last year, did not play this week.

     

  • And finally, I found myself next to a chair reserved in the media center for Rivals.com/BuckeyeGrove.com. Extra elbow room for me, as he was a no-show all three days I was there.
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    It makes me wonder: Was he camping out at Urban Meyer's house (near No. 7 green) in some strange attempt to score some recruiting info? Nothing would surprise me.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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