McNeill finishes second with a heavy heart

By Jason SobelJuly 7, 2014, 12:56 am

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – George McNeill called his family back home in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday morning, prior to competing in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic.

This had become a regular ritual, continuously checking in with them to receive an updated status report on Michele, the oldest of five McNeill siblings.

Only 46, Michele wasn’t doing well.

Two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. It was a lengthy battle, but eventually doctors offered some good news. She was finally cancer-free.

Last November, though, she was having problems with her speech. Doctors found a tumor in her brain and within a few weeks, they performed surgery to remove it.

Then about a month and a half ago, Michele started having headaches. The cancer had metastisized throughout her brain. The doctors called it the most aggressive kind of cancer imaginable.


Sobel: McNeill shows class in wake of personal tragedy

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It was in her spinal fluid. In her spine. Within a few days, it paralyzed her from the waist down. She’d spent the last few weeks in a wheelchair.

Last week, Michele traveled to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, requesting a second opinion. The doctors there, though, only confirmed the original diagnosis.

“They said they could do some really invasive off-the-wall stuff,” said George, the fourth of the five McNeill siblings. “She wasn’t tired of fighting, she wasn’t quitting, but she’d accepted it.”

When he called home Sunday morning, his regular ritual of checking in, he wasn’t expecting any positive news.

This time the news was even bleaker.

“They said it’s going to happen soon,” he later confided. “They said it might be the next couple of minutes, it might be the next couple of hours, but it’s going to happen soon.”

Feeling helpless, George put his mobile phone away in his locker and headed toward the driving range. Thinking about Michele every step of the way, he walked from the range to the practice green to the first tee, beginning his round at exactly 11:55 a.m. ET.

He doesn’t know how to explain what happened soon after.

He birdied the fourth hole. Then the fifth. Then the sixth and seventh.

On the eighth hole, a par-3 playing 220 yards, McNeill hit a towering 4-iron that plopped into the bottom of the cup for a hole-in-one.

The entire time, he barely showed any emotion.

“That ball went in the hole and we just kind of knew something was happening,” said Ernie Rose, a high school friend who is caddying for him this year. “Normally he’s pretty fiery, but this week he just had a peace about him.”

When the full scorecard was tallied up, it showed a 9-under 61 – the lowest round of his lengthy PGA Tour career.

McNeill couldn’t explain why he played so well under such dire circumstances.

“I don’t know … I really don’t know,” he said. “I’d be over a putt and she’s going through my head.

“Maybe it was good that I had something else in my thought. I knew what I was doing, I was aware of what I was doing, but it really wasn’t the first and foremost thing that I was concentrating on.”

Immediately after he walked off the final green, his phone still tucked away in his locker, he was interviewed on live television. The reporter artfully asked about Michele without directly asking about her.

“I know it's really difficult, and I will not press the issue with you. But sometimes perspective comes in different forms, doesn't it?” 

George started to speak, but got choked up. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. When he spoke, he alluded to his oldest sister.

“It does. It's ‑ yeah, you go out and, you know, golf doesn't really mean a whole lot. So it's hard. I played good today. And got finished, and you know, it was a nice middle part of the round. And so like I said, you know, golf doesn't mean a whole lot sometimes.”

A few minutes later, he shuffled off to the locker room, pulled out his phone and called his mother, Dorothy.

She told him that Michele had passed away at 11:35 that morning.

Twenty minutes before his tee time.

For most of the next two hours, George was alone with his thoughts. That round of 61 had placed him in a holding pattern. Waiting for the final groups to finish, he was periodically shown on television in various states of mourning and shock.

When the round was finally over, he had finished in second place, two strokes behind Angel Cabrera.

His golf bag strapped across his left shoulder, his spikes in his right hand, he stopped near his locker. He spoke about Michele and her two grown children, Julie and Sean. He spoke about what a difficult time this was for his family. He spoke about needing to go see them.

Once again, he choked up, tears forming in the corners of his eyes.

He paused to collect himself.

“It sucks,” he said, shaking his head.

Then he shuffled through the exit and up the stairs. He needed to start the journey back home.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.