RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) – George McNeill birdied the last three holes for a 3-under 69 to rally past Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa and win the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday.
Ishikawa, on the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that left his homeland in ruins, closed with a 68 and had a one-shot lead. McNeill caught him with a birdie on the 16th, took the lead with a birdie on the 17th and added another birdie on the par-5 18th.
“I was really nervous, but I knew what I had to do, and basically I just had to bear down and get it done,'' McNeill said. “If not, then somebody else was going to win. I was trying to basically have control of myself, and that's all I was looking for.''
McNeill finished at 16-under 272 and earned $630,000 for his second career victory. He won the 2007 Frys.com Open in Las Vegas as a PGA Tour rookie.
“I think I was a little dumb, for lack of a better word, in 2007,'' McNeill said. “I really didn't know any better. I've been out here a while now. It's my sixth year, and I've had six second-place finishes and two playoff losses, and seems like, wow, it's getting harder and harder and harder to win.''
“Winning is tough at anything. Doesn't matter playing golf, playing tennis, trying to be the best person, smartest person in the class. It's not easy to be the best even if it's only for one week, and that's why it's tough. And you got to take in golf what you can and move on.''
The 20-year-old Ishikawa, a nine-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, had his best PGA Tour finish.
“I made three birdies in the last four holes, and it was a great experience for me to be very close to the winning experience,'' Ishikawa said. “It felt like dreaming sometimes. If I get the next chance, I will grab it for sure.''
Ishikawa has earned $582,471 on the PGA Tour this season, surpassing the $411,943 – No. 150 on the 2011 money list – needed for special temporary membership. He has 60 days to join the tour as a special temporary member after becoming eligible and then he would be eligible for unlimited sponsor exemptions this season.
“Still thinking,'' Ishikawa said about accepting the temporary membership. “Need some time to think about it, but that's the direction I'll be aiming for.''
Henrik Stenson (71) and Boo Weekley (66) tied for third, three shots behind.