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Greenbrier Classic Recap: El Pato for Three

Len Hochberg

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years, covering the Washington Capitals. He co-authored a book on the history of hockey.

At the top of Sunday's telecast, Jim Nantz excitedly said there was "a thrill a minute" going on in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic. (Who knew?) For a second-tier tournament with just one of the world's top-10 golfers entered, it surely did have its electric moments. As well as its sorrowful ones.

George McNeill aced the 219-yard 8th hole en route to a remarkable 61. Bud Cauley finished with a flourish, jarring his tee ball on the 176-yard 18th. Which hole-in-one was the shot of the day? Amazingly, neither was. That honor belonged to Angel Cabrera.

On the par-4 13th, the hardest hole on the Old White TPC track, Cabrera let fly with an 8-iron from 176 yards, and it found the bottom of the cup for an eagle-2. That gave Cabrera a three-stroke lead and, with two bogeys coming home, he scored a two-stroke victory over McNeill.

For Cabrera, it was his third PGA Tour title, and his first in a non-major, following triumphs in the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters. And this one came out of nowhere, as the 44-year-old Argentine did not have so much as a top-10 this season. But the popular "El Pato" played the weekend in twin 6-under 64s, perhaps stealing some of the sports spotlight back home in advance of his country's World Cup semifinal match against the Netherlands.

McNeill was a full three strokes better than Cabrera on Sunday, and he flirted with 59 playing under the most heartbreaking conditions. McNeill's oldest sister, Michele, 46, was at home in Florida, near death from cancer. In fact, unknown to McNeill, Michele had passed away 20 minutes before he teed off. After shooting 28 on the front nine en route to the 9-under 61, McNeill had the clubhouse lead at 14-under with Cabrera just making the turn.

McNeill called his mother, who told him the sad news. For the next two hours, he waited for Cabrera to finish, CBS's cameras occasionally showing him watching from the clubhouse. Had Cabrera faltered, it's hard to imagine how McNeill would've performed in a playoff.

The 38-year-old McNeill will take next week off, but based on his second-place showing, he was among four golfers who qualified for the Open Championship in two weeks. Chris Stroud, Cameron Tringale and third-round leader Billy Hurley III, all of whom tied for fourth, captured the other three berths.

MONDAY BACKSWING

Webb Simpson

Steve Martin and John Candy would be envious. Simpson shot 71-69 and, thinking he had missed the cut, flew home from West Virginia to Charlotte, N.C. One problem: He didn't miss the cut. So he rented a car, came back and proceeded to shoot 2-over on the front nine on Saturday, in jeopardy of missing the 54-hole cut. But Simpson closed with a 31, then shot 63 on Sunday and, surprise, third place!

Charlie Beljan

Beljan closed with a 65 to vault him up the leaderboard into a tie for 11th. But he needed one fewer stroke to qualify for Royal Liverpool. Still, it moved the volatile Arizonan just outside the top 125, to 130th. It was his fourth top-25 of the season - actually, they've all been top 12s. They have help offset his 10 missed cuts in 22 starts.

Steve Marino

Marino turned in the best finish in his long road back from injury, with a 66-67 weekend leaving him tied for 11th and earning him $137,800. A tidy sum, for sure, but this was Marino's final start on a major medical extension, and he needed $310,841 to keep his card. One silver lining, though, as Marino made enough - by a scant $174 - to secure conditional status. He'll have difficulty getting into fields, but he's already in next week's John Deere and still is in the running for the playoffs. Marino is 170th in the point standings - tough to get into the top 125, but hardly insurmountable.

Bubba Watson

Watson was the lone golfer in the OWGR top 10 to partake, and he finished tied for 16th, staying second in the FedEx Cup standings, 187 points behind Jimmy Walker. It was Watson's ninth top-25 of the season, and he could've overtaken Walker with a solo second.

Patrick Cantlay

Cantlay turned in by far his best tournament since returning from a back injury. He shot four rounds in the 60s to wind up tied for 23rd, after a T71 and two MCs in his first three starts. Cantlay is not in the field for the John Deere, and he didn't qualify for the Open Championship, so it'll be at least three weeks to see whether he can keep the momentum going.

David Toms

Toms shot 69-69-68-69 - quite a week to record four rounds in the 60s at age 47, even allowing that the course was a par-70. The T26 showing moved Toms to 115th in the point standings.

Tom Watson

With apologies to Toms, Tom's week was better, even though Watson finished a shot behind in a tie for 35th. But two months shy of turning 65, Watson acquitted himself nicely, and hopefully it bodes well for Royal Liverpool in two weeks. This was Watson's third start on the regular tour this season, and the first time he made the cut.

Gary Woodland

Last week, we detailed how Woodland has had some very nice weeks, but also has been maddening for his owners by consistently saving his worst round of the week for Sunday. Gtreenbrier was no different, as Woodland shot 69-70-69-75 to finish 72nd. Woodland hasn't done better than T46 in his past four starts and, while still 26th in the point standings, he's definitely trending the wrong way.

Jonas Blixt

Blixt opened with a 64 to take the first-round lead, and that bode well for the defending Greenbrier champion. But Blixt was a non-factor the rest of the way, fading to T35. After wins in 2012 and 2013, this season has to be viewed as a bit of setback for the Swede. He has only one top 10 - albeit being the runner-up to Bubba Watson at the Masters - and is 80th in the point standings. That after he finished 29th last season.

Jimmy Walker

Walker missed only his third cut in 20 starts. He's been atop the point standings virtually all season, and has maintained his position despite the most recent of his three wins coming way back in February. But Walker has had a steady string of top 10s, including at the Masters and U.S. Open. It'll be interesting to see how he does in his second go-round at the Open Championship in two weeks. Walker missed the cut last year at Muirfield.

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