Playoff payoff: Stallings wins Greenbrier
That earned a big ovation from the fans surrounding at the Old White TPC's par-3 stadium hole. And when he returned to that green, another ovation awaited.
And when he sank his 6-foot, 9-inch birdie putt, he won yet another ovation and much, much more. The 26-year-old rookie from Oak Ridge, Tenn., won the playoff for his first PGA Tour title.
Stallings shot a 1-under-par 69 to finish tied with Bill Haas and Bob Estes at 10-under 270. Estes and Haas joined Stallings in hitting the green on a hole playing 168 yards, but missed birdie putts of 12 and 23 feet, respectively.
When Stallings' putt dropped, he earned $1.08 million and exempt status for the rest of this season, 2012 and 2013. He also shot up to 26th in the FedExCup standings, landed a berth in the limited-field Bridgestone Invitational next week in Akron, Ohio, a spot in the PGA Championship and another one in the 2012 Masters.
He also became the sixth rookie to win this year, the most on the Tour since 1970. He is the 12th under the age of 30 to win, and did so in the season's 13th playoff.
"Running from the back of the green to the tee is something I'll absolutely never forget," he said. "I felt like people were cheering for Bill and Bob as well, but I really felt like they were pumped up for me. That's huge playing in West Virginia in a tournament, and everybody has been phenomenal.
"Obviously, a day I'll never forget."
Playing in the final pairing with third-round leader Anthony Kim, Stallings nearly crumbled on the front nine with four bogeys. He then birdied the 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th holes to return to 9 under, and then birdied the 16th to go to 10 under.
That turned into the magic number of the week, a year after a 270 meant a tie for 45th place in the inaugural Classic. Nobody could get any lower, and several who did reach 10 under fell back.
Stallings fell back as well, suffering a bogey on the par-5 17th after his tee shot hit a tree and bounced in the creek. That was tough to swallow, as the hole yielded 26 birdies and just five bogeys or worse.
But he bounced back on the 18th, hitting his 9-iron within 5 feet and hitting that birdie putt to join the playoff. Estes, who thundered from 18th place with the day's low round of 64, had been on the practice range for some time, and Haas was waiting after his 67.
Estes and Haas had every advantage in experience with 769 Tour appearances and six victories combined. Haas won twice in 2010 and entered the week ranked 47th in the world. The 45-year-old Estes is recovering from a wrist injury that delayed the start of his season, and is fighting to keep his Tour status.
And Stallings is a rookie who started with a dreadful front-nine 38. But he overcame it all.
"At No. 10, my caddie [Josh Graham] kind of needled me and said, 'Finally, we're going to hit the fairway after the first nine holes,'" Stallings said. "I said, 'I promise, I promise we can play better from the fairway.' He said, 'We're going to get back to even par and we're going to have an opportunity to win the tournament.'
"He told me that through the whole nine."
Kim opened the day in the lead after a third-round 62 and had several chances to pull away while Stallings struggled to find a fairway off the tee. He missed five birdie putts in the first seven holes, four from 11-to-14 feet. Then he missed a 6-foot par putt on the eighth hole and suffered three more bogeys en route to a 74.
Moments after Kim began his tumble, Webb Simpson birdied the ninth, his fourth such birdie in five holes. But he immediately bogeyed the 10th, missing a 51/2-foot par putt, and suffered two more bogeys in an up-and-down 70.
Haas assumed the lead after birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 made him 10 under. He fell a stroke back on the par-3 15th when he chunked a chip out of the tall grass atop the greenside bunker, but got that stroke back on the 17th.
By then, Estes had flown from under the radar to the top of the board. He capped a bogey-free round with birdies on Nos. 14, 17 and 18 to pull to 10 under and wait.
The playoff rotation at the Classic is the 18th, then the 17th and 18th again if necessary. The pin was above the horseshoe-shaped mound that dissects the green, and Haas just did hit on the correct side. Estes got closer and Stallings even closer, setting up a tense three putts.
Haas had the line on his putt, but it stopped 2 inches short. Estes' right-to-left putt, just above the hole, appeared doomed from contact.
"I got it right on the line where I needed to have it, but I hit it through the break," Estes said. "If I had the right speed, it would have went right in. I just hit it a little too firm."
Then Stallings stepped up to the left of the hole, in almost the exact place he putted minutes before. When the putt dropped, he flipped the putter to the ground grip-first and pumped his fists skyward.
"To be honest, I'm more excited about the FedExCup than I am about the money," he said. "One of the biggest goals we had was to get to Boston [for the second round of those playoffs]. I was born just outside of the city, and I am a huge, huge, diehard Red Sox fan."
Five players finished tied for fourth at 9 under. Andres Romero jumped from 18th with a 65 and Brendon de Jonge recovered from a tough third round to shoot a 66. Jimmy Walker and Cameron Tringale finished out that list.
Reach Doug Smock 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.