Mitch Vingle: Classic boiled down to two storylines
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — There were many storylines throughout the 2014 Greenbrier Classic.
George Lopez, Denny Hamlin, Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley and Jase Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” were in town.
Unlike most years, the Classic’s headliner, this time Bubba Watson, made the cut. (Jimmy Walker did not.) Like most years, 64-year-old pro emeritus Tom Watson made the cut. Surprise entrant Nick Faldo did not.
After the first round, last year’s Classic winner, Jonas Blixt, was atop the leaderboard. (A 73 then did him in.) After that, Billy Hurley III took over. It was a neat story on this Fourth of July weekend because Hurley is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate.
There was Troy Matteson’s 61 on Friday. John Daly hung around for a while before falling to the second cut. (Are we done with the John Daly Experiment now?)
It was interesting. At times, the leaderboard wasn’t as bad as it’s been in the past. Steve Stricker was lurking. Bubba Watson was six back for a while. At the end, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were there.
Oh yeah. Two other stars were the weather and aces. After a sticky Thursday, the weather was picture perfect here.
Lightning did strike twice Sunday, though, within minutes of each other. On No. 8, George McNeill posted a hole-in-one from 219 yards with a 4-iron. Then, on No. 18, Bud Cauley stuck $100 in the pocket of each fan in the hole’s stands by sticking an ace from 176 yards with a 7-iron. (Afterward, fans in the stands chanted, “Hole-in-one! Hole-in-one!” to subsequent players.) There were the Maroon 5 and Jimmy Buffet concerts.
In the end, though, the 2014 Classic boiled down to two storylines: McNeill and Angel Cabrera.
McNeill made many around the tournament cringe by soaring to the top of the leaderboard. Please, they were whispering, not another no-name winner. Yes, he was a former All-America player from Florida State, but really? Really? The most interesting morsel about McNeill was that he was a former assistant club pro who couldn’t stand to be inside, quit and made the PGA Tour.
Nice sidebar, but the 6-foot-1 38-year-old was not highly ranked. It was a yawner.
Until McNeill was interviewed following his Sunday round.
It was then that McNeill captured the hearts of those here and around the nation. It was revealed via CBS that he was playing despite a heavy heart. His older sister, Michele, died earlier Sunday. McNeill had already withdrawn from next week’s John Deere Classic.
“You go out and, you know, golf doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” said a teary McNeill. “So it’s hard. I played good today and got finished and, you know, it was a nice middle part of the round. But, like I said, you know, golf doesn’t mean a whole lot sometimes.”
It was a touching moment. McNeill went from a nobody to a guy we embraced.
Yet he finished at 3:53 p.m. And Cabrera was still on the course.
Cabrera was all CBS had. Aside from the Argentinian, the best to showcase was Cameron Tringale at 10 under. That’s Cameron Tringale.
But Cabrera shined. He deposited an eagle-2 from 175 yards out on the tough par-4 No. 13 to move to 17 under. It was the end of a run that went birdie, birdie and eagle.
We’ll long remember Cabrera’s round-house upper cut after the shot.
“I was having a discussion with my caddy over whether to use a 7-iron or an 8-iron,” Cabrera said through interpreter and swing coach Charlie Epps. “I was going to hit an 8-iron with a draw.”
The decision paved the way for a Greenbrier Classic winner with Masters and U.S. Open titles on his resume. It’s been since the 2009 Masters, though, since Cabrera won.
“It’s been a while since things have been going the right way and it’s nice to have a win,” Cabrera said.
It was a happy ending for Greenbrier owner Jim Justice. And perhaps it was an appropriate ending. In a tournament visited by “Duck Dynasty” stars, a man with the nickname of “El Pato” proved victorious — The Duck.
Also, the victory came in the beautiful rolling hills of West Virginia. Cabrera can relate.
“This has been a wonderful tournament,” Cabrera told CBS announcer Jim Nantz at the post-event trophy ceremony. “I’m very comfortable here. It reminds me of Cordoba, Argentina, and the mountains.”
Appropriate. Because now, after a 16-under performance, our mountains will remember him.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.