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George McNeil takes PGA Q-School medalist honours

George McNeill never thought he belonged behind the counter working as an assistant pro. His decision to quit paid off Monday when he won the PGA Tour qualifying tournament and joined 39 other players who earned their cards for next year.

McNeill closed with a 5-under 67 on PGA West's Stadium Course, his fifth consecutive round in the 60s at one of the toughest tournaments in golf, giving him a five-shot victory over Robert Garrigus.

McNeill earned $50,000 and will be at the top of the list among the 61 players who earned their cards through the Nationwide Tour or Q-school. That should help him get plenty of starts early next year when the PGA Tour embarks on its new FedExCup points competition, which could make it tough for newcomers to get into tournaments.

"I didn't feel like it was easy at any time, even today," said McNeill, who finished at 23-under 409. "I knew I was a shoo-in to get through, especially after nine holes. But I still wanted to keep pressing on."

He had given up on Q-school after failing for the eighth time, and took a job as an assistant pro at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. But his heart was in tournament golf, so McNeill quit last year and decided to give it one more try.

"I'm ready to see what I can do," he said.

For so many other players, the sixth and final round was a nail-biter. There were a few collapses, but all that did was allow the cutoff to fall one stroke lower at 8 under par. The top 30 and ties earned cards, and 12 players tied for 29th at 8 under.

Even then, a half-dozen players had to sweat it out on the 18th hole.

Jonathan Kaye, a two-time PGA Tour winner, holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to finish at 8 under. The cutoff was 9 under at the time, and Kaye slung his ball into the water.

Kyle Reifers appeared to throw away his chance at making the big leagues when he pitched over the 18th green, then tried to hole his par chip and ran it 15 feet past the cup. He made the bogey putt to finish at 8 under, and was close to tears waiting to see if it would be good enough.

The biggest move belonged to Jaco Van Zyl, who started the final round in a tie for 75th. He closed with a 64, holing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to earn his card on the number.

Ten other players started outside the top 30 and earned their card, including Michael Allen, who was tied for 61st and closed with a 66. Chris Stroud was tied for 34th until closing with a 68, getting to the PGA Tour for the first time. Stroud spent all of last year trying to Monday qualify on the Nationwide Tour.

"It made me understand how hard you've got to work," Stroud said. "And look what I'm doing now -- sitting here about to go to the PGA Tour. I'm elated."

Former PGA Tour winner Paul Stankowski earned his card despite opening with a 79.

Brian Bateman was among those who made it possible for so many to earn their cards. Bateman appeared to be in good shape until hitting into the water on the island-green 17th on the Stadium Course -- a hole called "Alcatraz" -- and taking double bogey to fall to 7 under. But he rallied in style, making a 25-foot birdie on the last hole to barely get his card.

Others who made clutch putts on the 18th hole to finish at 8 under were Matt Hendrix and former PGA Tour winner Michael Bradley.

Seventeen of the players who earned their cards Monday will be rookies next year, a group that includes Anthony Kim, who earned $338,067 in just two starts this year before running out of places to play.

The next 49 players earned full status on the Nationwide Tour, a group that includes two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and past PGA Tour winners Duffy Waldorf and Bob Burns.

 

 




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