George McNeill gains maiden PGA Tour victory
George McNeill is far more familiar with the rigors of Qualifying School and the ways of the pro shop than he is the everyday pressures of the PGA Tour.
Not that anyone would ever know he's a rookie who's made nine trips to Q-school.
Showing the poise and calm of a veteran all week, McNeill won his first career PGA Tour title in commanding fashion Sunday, shooting a 5-under 67 for a 23-under 264 total and a four-stroke victory over D.J. Trahan in the Frys.com Open.
Now McNeill has something in common with Tiger Woods: In 1996, Woods won his first Tour championship at this tournament.
"Any time you can be mentioned in the same sentence as him it's a good thing," McNeill said.
McNeill would like nothing more than to go on to play in a Masters, the British Open or the PGA Championship.
And why not aim big?
"Obviously everybody wants to win a major," he said.
Not until the 18th tee did McNeill finally show just how special his performance had been, smiling and waving to the camera. He tipped his hat as he made his way home.
The 32-year-old McNeill did it with his only bogey coming at the end of another solid round at TPC Summerlin with the crowd on its feet and four scantily clad Las Vegas showgirls ready to offer their personal congratulations and escort him back out for the awards ceremony.
His trophy arrived from 5,000 feet above, carried by one of two hang gliders who took part.
That's Sin City for you.
"That whole saying about what (happens in Vegas) stays in Vegas, I hope my game travels," McNeill said, smiling. "I felt like I didn't do anything that special. It's nice to kind of buzz around and win by four and not feel like you're doing anything all that great."
McNeill did it with small galleries following him, save for a big group of his Florida buddies who showed up to play in a pro-am of their own starting Monday -- after they threw McNeill a party on The Strip on Sunday night.
He did it by maintaining that same calm demeanor from the start, an even keel personality more resembling a veteran than a first-time winner.
McNeill earned the winning share of $720,000 on a beautiful, clear day in the desert after strong wind played a big factor in Saturday in a tournament that featured not one top-20 player in the field.
McNeill, who last December won Q-school by five strokes, was coming off rounds of 66, 64 and 67 and became the second victorious rookie and 11th first-time winner this year. He began his final round at 18 under and five strokes ahead, matching the largest lead on the tour this year heading into a final round.
He secured his tour card for the next two years. All that after a discouraging stretch earlier this year when he missed six cuts and withdrew from one event in an eight-tournament span.
"I was trying not to think about all that stuff when I was out there playing," McNeill said. "I don't get too emotional. I'm having fun with this. It hasn't sunk in. ... In a sense, I know I have a job for the next two years and it takes the pressure off."
After Trahan -- who shot a 66 -- birdied the first four holes and then No. 9 to pull within three strokes, McNeill made a 15-footer for birdie on No. 11 and also birdied 13 and 14. He made a 27 1/2 -foot putt on the 156-yard 14th.
"It was nice to see some putts fall," Trahan said. "Obviously I left a few out there on the last few holes. It almost seemed insignificant with George's lead being so big. He played great and I was proud of myself that I played so well. I hung in there and played tough today but he was just too good."
Robert Garrigus shot a 70 to tie for third with Cameron Beckman (68) at 15 under after Garrigus started the day in the top group and tied with Trahan for second. Garrigus' finish was the best of his career, putting him over the $1 million mark for the year.
Las Vegan Bob May, who led after the first day, tied for fifth with a 69 to finish at 14 under -- a nice showing for May considering he has dealt with back injuries for years now and is still on the comeback trail.
The 39-year-old May returned to the PGA Tour last year for the first time since 2003. He played 2006 on a major medical extension after not swinging a club for two-plus years because of his back.
After McNeill pulled his tee shot on No. 6 left and about a foot into a rocky and sandy desert area, he consulted a rules official about his options regarding the moveable obstruction.
He picked up a small rock just behind his ball, moved away a couple of others as well as a pine cone, then chipped onto the green for a chance at birdie -- and had to be happy just to save par.
Trahan, meanwhile, bogeyed after missing his par putt from 5 1/2 feet.
McNeill, who spent last year working in a golf shop before rediscovering his desire to compete, made only two birdies on the front nine but played his best golf over the final nine holes. He birdied four of his final eight holes.
"He's relaxed all the time," said one of McNeill's pals, Chuck Koehler. "I think this is going to catapult him into the upper echelon of golfers. He's got the game but needed that confidence."
Tournament chairman Gary Davis announced that Shriners Hospitals for Children is the new title sponsor, signing a five-year commitment to keep the tournament in Las Vegas through 2013. Its name: the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
The format will change starting next year from a pro-am to an all-pro event for the four days of competition, with a celebrity pro-am to take place Wednesday. All rounds will be played on the Summerlin course after groups split between it and nearby TPC The Canyons for the first two days.