On Day 6 of the PGA TOUR Q-school finals, fortunes are made and lost by a slim margin.
George McNeill was a runaway medalist on Monday, shooting a 5-under 67 to finish five shots clear of the field at 23-under-par 409. His winning margin was the largest since Scott Verplank coasted to a six-shot victory in 1997.
'I'm still kind of in the moment,' said McNeill. 'I'm sure it'll sink in really soon.'
But McNeill, 31, was just one of 40 players who earned their PGA TOUR cards for next season, and one of 17 who made it for the first time.
The low 30 scores and ties at the end of the six-day marathon earned exempt status for 2007; the rest of the large field received varying degrees of status on the Nationwide Tour.
Robert Garrigus shot a 4-under 68 and finished as a distant runner-up to McNeill at 18-under 414. Rich Barcelo had a 1-under 71 and was third at 17-under 415. Both are returning to the PGA TOUR.
Further down the leaderboard is where the real drama could be found.
All over the two host courses -- the Stadium Course at PGA West and the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course -- players were making and missing key shots, moving above and below the number that would give them their tour cards.
Bob May, best known for losing a playoff to Tiger Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship, was one of the fortunate ones.
May needed to make a greenside bunker shot at No. 9 -- his final hole -- to get to 9 under par, the make-or-break number at the time. His shot was dead on, but the ball lipped out and May settled for a cruel par.
Later on, as the final leaderboard shook out, the number fell to 8 under and May made it. As did Kyle Reifers, who bogeyed his last hole to fall to 8 under, only to realize later on that it was enough.
The important thing, all players know, is to settle down and realize that the best thing you can do is pace yourself.
'It's not a sprint, and we all know that,' said Paul Stankowski, who shot a 79 in the first round last Wednesday but earned his card at 13-under 419.
The PGA TOUR isn't the only option for these players, but it's by far the best -- a fact that eluded no one in the field, from McNeill all the way down to the 10 other players who tied for 29th place alongside May and Reifers.
The Nationwide Tour is something. The PGA TOUR is so much more.
'The PGA TOUR is the PGA TOUR,' said Alex Cejka, who beat the number by a couple shots at 10 under. 'I'm very happy, and we'll see what next year brings.'
Scott Gutschewski was another one of the lucky ones.
Gutschewski had two double-bogeys Monday, but also made eight birdies to shoot 68 and earn his card at 10 under. The Nationwide Tour might be the second- or third-best circuit in the world, Gutschewski rationalized, but it's still just a consolation prize at Q-school.
'You just have to get as low as you can and hope that it works out,' he said.
For those who have never played on the PGA TOUR, successfully making it through Q-school is like a dream. Tom Johnson, who finished at 13 under, is one of those players.
'It doesn't seem real,' he said.
For others, like Denmark's Anders Hansen, it's less of a dream than an opportunity to weigh one's options. Already exempt on the European Tour, he now has a PGA TOUR card as well.
'I heard it's a good tour,' joked Hansen, who finished tied for fourth place at 15-under. 'So I'm looking forward to it.'
McNeill, who played on the Nationwide Tour in 2003, found himself in a familiar position atop the leaderboard. He led Q-school four years ago, but failed to earn his tour card.
After spending a short time as a club pro in Florida, he's a different kind of professional now. And the world's best players await.
'I guess we'll see [what it's like],' McNeill said. 'A lot of it is attitude, but I'm interested to see how I'll do.'