Rookie McNeill hits jackpot in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, Oct 15 (Reuters) American rookie George McNeill held off an early challenge from playing partner D.J. Trahan to clinch his maiden PGA Tour title by four shots at the Las Vegas Open.

The 32-year-old from Florida, ice-cool on a sun-baked day at the TPC Summerlin, fired a five-under-par 67 yesterday to become the Tour's 11th first-time winner this season.

Five ahead of compatriot Trahan overnight, McNeill birdied four of the last eight holes for the second day in a row, posting a tournament record 23-under total of 264 despite a three-putt bogey at the last.

He also became the second rookie to triumph on the 2007 PGA Tour, following American Brandt Snedeker at the Wyndham Championship in August.

''I felt like I didn't do anything that special,'' McNeill told reporters after being presented with the tournament trophy in the company of four scantily clad Las Vegas showgirls.

''It's nice to kind of buzz around and win by four and not feel like you're doing anything all that great. I don't get too emotional. I'm having fun with this. It hasn't sunk in.'' Trahan reeled off birdies on the first four holes on his way to a joint best-of-the-day 66 and second spot at 19 under, finishing four ahead of Americans Cameron Beckham (68) and Robert Garrigus (70).

EARLY BURST McNeill, who worked as an assistant club professional at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers, Florida a year ago, held off Trahan's early burst with birdies at the first and third before reaching the turn in two-under 34.

At that point, his lead had been trimmed to three with Trahan offsetting a three-putt bogey at the sixth with a birdie at the par-five ninth.

McNeill, the leading player at the 2006 PGA Tour qualifying tournament after making eight previous unsuccessful visits, then tightened his grip on the title and the first prize of 720,000 dollars.

He picked up further shots at the 11th, 13th and 14th before two-putting for birdie at the par-five 16th to regain his five-shot cushion.

Trahan missed short birdie putts at the 16th and 17th and McNeill could afford to drop his only stroke of the day at the last and still eclipse the tournament record aggregate of 265 set by American Troy Matteson last year.

Among the big names, 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir carded a 70 to move into a tie for 10th place at 12 under, six strokes better than big-hitting John Daly, who birdied four of the last six holes for a 67.

REUTERS TB VC0945

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