LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP)—George McNeill stepped onto the 18th tee with atwo-stroke lead, and was surprisingly still feeling good after just makingbogey.
That’s because everybody else also was struggling, too.
“It was funny. Justin Rose walked up on the tee and he says, ‘Man, out ofthe three guys making 5, I think there’s one guy that is actually happy aboutit,”’ McNeill recalled. “I think he was right because Justin Leonard turnedaround and kind of gave him a look.”
That was only the beginning.
McNeill closed with a double bogey Saturday for a share of the lead enteringthe final round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, giving hope to otherswho seemed far out of contention.
McNeill overcame a five-shot deficit and made two eagles on a cool day atDisney World that made greens fast but easy to reach. He shot a 3-under 69 thatleft him tied with Rose (69), Leonard (71) and Mathias Gronberg (66) at 13under.
“I felt back in the tournament, and I felt like it was going to be us threeguys fighting it out,” Rose said. “Then all of a sudden now we’re in atournament where it’s a complete logjam.”
McNeill kept his poise after two early bogeys. But he gave back threestrokes on the final two holes, including a double bogey on the 18th.
McNeill found trouble from the outset.
His first shot of the day hooked past the brush and into the trees, forcinghim to take a drop before guiding the ball 20 feet from the hole. McNeilltwo-putted for bogey but gained six strokes back on six holes later in theround.
None were bigger than when McNeill sank a 34-foot putt for eagle on the 10thand made a 30-footer for another eagle on the 14th.
“I can’t remember the last time I made two eagles in a round,” saidMcNeill, who won the 2007 Frys.com Open for his lone tour title. “So I waspretty excited about those.”
Then things went sour—again.
After bogeying on the 17th, McNeill’s final drive landed out of play. Hetook a drop before missing a 10-foot bogey putt to take the lead into the finalround.
Leonard, the leader after two rounds, had his troubles as well.
He had a five-shot lead after five holes and seemed as if he were going torun away with the tournament. But one hole did him in. His drive on the 11thsliced way right, bounced off the cart path and splashed into the water. He wasable to fade the next shot 30 feet from the pin and two-putted for bogey.
Leonard figures most of the field now has a chance.
“There’s three or four or five or eight of us tied,” he joked. “Don’treally know what to expect Sunday. I think with it bunched up as it is, it’sgoing to take a really good round.”
The competition to secure tour cards next year won’t be decided untilSunday.
Only those who finish in the top 125 on the money list are guaranteed fullstatus. The next 25 will at least get conditional status and be able to entermore than a dozen tournaments.
For those at the top, it’s a different feeling.
“I think you almost don’t want to think that you’re leading because Icertainly don’t see any pressure,” Rose said. “I don’t feel like I’m leadingthe tournament because there are so many guys around the lead.”