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McNeill holds off challengers in Vegas for first PGA Tour win

LAS VEGAS -- George McNeill repaired one last divot on the
18th green, tossed away a piece of grass then three-putted for
bogey on his final hole -- not quite the finish he would have hoped
for in front of the cheering gallery.

McNeill set himself up so well all week it didn't matter one
bit.

Minus fanfare or frills, the 32-year-old rookie 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 also earned his first PGA Tour victory at this tournament.

"Any time you can be mentioned in the same sentence as him it's
a good thing," McNeill said.

Not until the tee at 18 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.

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.

Only in Las Vegas.

"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.

The Shriners -- who also hope this will bring their hospitals
more recognition -- are pledging $6 million to run the event each
year, while also seeking other sponsors to help.

"The PGA Tour is here in Las Vegas to stay," said Davis,
determined to find a way to bring in more big names. "Everybody
agreed it needs to stay in Las Vegas. That's the first step toward
major sports in Southern Nevada."

The tournament will remain in October for now, but organizers
hope to eventually move to the spring. Davis said the purse would
stay at $4 million.