WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Some five years removed from his last victory on American soil, and languishing without a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this season, Angel Cabrera found his groove at the Greenbrier Classic.
Stacking powerful shots amid mountains reminiscent of his Sierra Chicas in Argentina, Cabrera fired a second consecutive 6-under 64 on Sunday and posted a two-stroke victory over George McNeill. He earned $1.17 million, jumped 104 spots to 54th in the FedExCup standings and gave himself some validation.
“I needed this,” he said. “I needed to win.”
And perhaps the Greenbrier needed a recognizable champion, following a three-year string of lesser-known winners.
Cabrera’s previous two PGA victories were monumental—he claimed the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont before adding the 2009 Masters. Yet the ensuing drought had banished him from limelight of golf’s elite and led the 46-year-old to recommit himself.
“Yeah, after the Masters victory, I hadn’t been too consistent,” Cabrera said. “So I’ve been working very hard of late to get back to where I think I should be.”
“I felt under control out there today, and I didn’t want to let it get away from me.”
He opened the Greenbrier’s fourth round at 10-under, two strokes back of final-pairing partner Billy Hurley III, who had never won on the tour.
Yet it became rapidly clear that Cabrera’s toughest challenge wouldn’t come from Hurley (73), who bogeyed four of the first six holes. Rather, it was McNeill who applied the pressure earlier with a 9-under 61, highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 234-yard eighth hole.
While the 38-year-old McNeill recorded his lowest round in 203 PGA Tour starts and qualified for the upcoming British Open, he was overcome by the news that his older sister, Michele McNeill, succumbed to cancer Sunday morning.
“You know, golf doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” he said after the round, choking back tears. “My mind, it was elsewhere for a long time. I was just trying to play golf and get through a round.”
As McNeill made his way to the clubhouse, Cabrera made the turn. He took the lead with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12, which foreshadowed his shot of day—a 176-yard 8-iron for eagle on the par-4 13th.
Cabrera pumped his fist from the fairway and enjoyed an I-told-you-so moment with his caddie.
“I was actually at 182 yards between the 7- and the 8-iron, and I was arguing with my caddie,” he said. “I said, I’m just going to hit a hard 8-iron.”
BRITISH OPEN QUALIFIERS
Three finishers at 9-under—Chris Stroud, Cameron Tringale and Hurley—joined McNeill in qualifying for The Open Championship, which will be staged at Royal Liverpool from July 17-20.
“What a cool way to qualify,” said the 32-year-old Stroud, who missed the cut at two PGA Championships and tied for 47th a the 2010 U.S. Open. “It’s the (tournament) that started everything. Everybody on tour tells me it’s the best tournament in the world.”
As Hurley slipped seven shots back of Cabrera, he realized Sunday’s final stretch was all about earning an Open invite. He parred the final three holes to stay in the qualifying mix.
“I was thinking about it on the last couple of holes, looking at the leaderboard and trying to do the math in my head,” he said.
Webb Simpson’s topsy-turvy weekend concluded with a third-place finish at 10-under. Not bad for a guy who headed home to North Carolina on Friday afternoon presuming he had missed the cut.
Simpson earned a late reprieve when the cut line shifted from 1-under to even par.
“We flew home Friday and when we landed, I had to rent a car and drive back,” he said.
He also narrowly skirted the secondary cut Saturday, but a 63 on Sunday had him zooming up the leaderboard. The brilliant round also helped raise his profile for this year’s Ryder Cup team, especially with captain Tom Watson playing the Greenbrier.
“I think Tom knows what’s going on,” Simpson said. “I’m hoping my good play will take care of it and not have to be a captain’s pick, but if I was a captain’s pick it would be great to be on that team.”
WHAT’S UP WITH WATSONS
At age 64, Tom Watson closed with a 69 for his third straight under-par round. He finished 4-under and tied for 38th.
He also worked in a plug for the Greenbrier, where his status as club pro emeritus gives him many chances to enjoy the amenities.
“It’s a vacation where there’s also a golf tournament,” he said. “Where else do you go bowling and play croquet one night and then shoot 69 the next day?”
Bubba Watson also closed with a 69 and finished 7-under in a tie for 16th.