The playoff pressure is intensifying for the 100-man field at this week's Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts, but Scott Stallings is simply happy to be back in his home state after a bitter-sweet PGA Tour season.
While the 27-year-old American clinched his second title on the U.S. circuit at last month's True South Classic, he has been hampered by a rib injury for much of his 2012 campaign.
Stallings unknowingly tore cartilage in five of his ribs in mid-January but he kept competing in tournaments until he had an MRI scan which revealed the tear. He then spent the next six weeks dealing with that.
"Unfortunate would be the understatement," Stallings told reporters on Wednesday at the TPC Boston ahead of Friday's opening round. "I knew that when I had the opportunity to play and I was fully healthy, I'd have a chance to be successful.
"I worked really hard this off-season to get in better shape ... and it kind of felt like it was all for nothing because there's no real recovery process for a rib injury besides just sitting.
"So I did that for a couple of months, came back and played the Masters on purely pain medicine just to get through it. I was glad to be done with that."
The first event in which Stallings competed pain-free was the May 24-27 Colonial Invitational. Two months later, he claimed his second PGA Tour victory by three shots at the True South Classic in Madison, Mississippi.
That win catapulted him up the FedExCup standings and he sits in 61st place heading into the Deutsche Bank Championship where the top 70 will advance to next week's BMW Championship in Carmel, Indiana.
"It's really exciting to be back," Stallings said of his return to Massachusetts. "I grew up in Tennessee, but New England summers were kind of what I became accustomed to.
"My mom's whole side of the family is from New England. I learned how to play golf up here. It'll be a cool experience to play for the Boston crowd."
This week's event is the second of four in the PGA Tour's lucrative FedExCup playoffs and only 30 players will qualify for the Sep. 20-23 Tour Championship finale in Atlanta where the overall points winner pockets a $10 million bonus.
"Everybody that's here has been playing well," said American Jason Dufner, who is sixth in the FedExCup standings. "I'm looking forward to continuing the playoffs and just kind of finishing the year off on a high note."
Dufner, who has won twice on the 2012 PGA Tour, opted to miss last week's Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, New York, to conserve energy for his busiest time of the season.
"I had a nice week at home just resting, getting ready for this stretch," the 35-year-old said. "If I would have played last week I would have had to play eight of nine weeks through the Ryder Cup, which is a lot of golf.
"The way the schedule kind of broke down, it was a good week to take off last week, and now I'm looking forward to peaking towards the end of the playoffs and rolling into the Ryder Cup."
Dufner is one of eight automatic qualifiers on the United States Ryder Cup team but four more spots are up for grabs this week with captain Davis Love III set to announce his wildcard picks on Tuesday.
"If I was captain, I'd be looking at guys that have some experience with the Ryder Cup and then guys that are playing well right now," said Dufner, who will be a rookie on the 2012 U.S. team.
"There's a pretty big group of guys he can select from, so I don't think he can go really wrong with any of the selections."
Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Bo Van Pelt are widely viewed as the front-runners for U.S. wildcard selection. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)