WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Angel Cabrera will see your hole-in-one, George McNeill, and raise you a hole-out eagle on the toughest hole on the course.
That was the final round Sunday of the fifth Greenbrier Classic in very boiled-down terms. Cabrera’s eagle-2 on Old White TPC’s tricky 13th hole proved to be the margin of victory.
The native of Argentina won his third event on the PGA Tour in 218 starts, though two of them were majors — the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters. The 44-year-old also has 39 international victories in South America, Europe and Asia.
His victory earned him a full Tour exemption through 2016 — his exemption from the 2009 Masters was expiring — not to mention the $1.17 million first prize and 500 FedExCup points. He gained 104 spots in the points race, rising to 54th and clinching a spot in the four-week playoffs.
Cabrera shot a 6-under-par 64 to give him a 16-under 264, two shots clear of McNeill. McNeill, grieving over the passing of his older sister Michele earlier Sunday morning, finished his 61 almost two hours earlier to give him the outright lead for a brief period.
McNeill, who teed off 13 twosomes before Cabrera and Billy Hurley, cranked up the course atmosphere with an ace on the 219-yard eighth. The shot, which brought a roar heard throughout the valley, put McNeill at 11 under, one shot behind the yet-to-start Cabrera/Hurley tandem.
After a 64 Saturday, Cabrera was 10 under entering Sunday, two shots behind Hurley. He disposed of the U.S. Naval Academy graduate on the front nine, shooting a 3-under 31 to Hurley’s 36.
He finally overtook McNeill on the par-5 12th hole, making a 7-foot putt to go to 15 under. He followed that with his gem of the day, a 176-yard hole-out for the eagle. The roar from that end of the course matched the roar for McNeill’s ace, as well as one by Bud Cauley on No. 18.
Cabrera had a three-shot lead and knew the tournament was his to lose.
“I realized that, but I knew that it was now dependent on me, that I had to stay focused and keep on playing,” he said.
But he bogeyed the 14th when his approach rolled off the false front and the par-3 15th when he couldn’t get up-and-down from the greenside rough.
He ended the suspense on the 574-yard par-5 17th, bombing his drive 335 yards, easily reaching the green in two and converting a routine two-putt par. He hit the green on No. 18, and could have three-putted and still won.
While long putts helped his round Saturday, his driver was the main weapon. For instance, he smashed drives of 302, 321, 372 and 343 yards on the sixth hole. He wasn’t erratic, either, hitting 46 of 56 fairways in four days.
“It made the course play a little shorter for myself. [The best part of my game] was my drive, driver,” he said.
McNeill exploded out of the gate, scoring birdies on Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 before nailing his hole-in-one. He finished the front nine in 6-under 28, matching what Stuart Appleby shot when he heisted the 2010 Classic with his famous 59.
“Well, it was playing a perfect [yardage],” McNeill said of his ace. “It was about 220 to the pin, which is a 4-iron for me. And I just hit a nice, cut 4-iron right up against the slope, and then I saw it rolling left. [The eighth green has a sharp right-to-left slope.]
“Really didn’t pay too much attention. I just figured, hopefully, it wasn’t going to gain too much speed, and then everybody started getting louder, and then [the fans] jumped out of their seats. So, obviously, we knew it went in.
“It’s not something you can really plan on. It’s nice when it happens.”
McNeill led the list of four players who qualified to the British Open through the Open Championship Qualifying Series. Chris Stroud, Cameron Tringale and Hurley joined him, edging out Cauley and Will Wilcox by virtue of a higher world ranking.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.