George McNeill Healthy George McNeill in Las Vegas to defend Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open title

Following a recent health scare, George McNeill says he isn't feeling any pressure when it comes to defending his title in this weekend's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Last year, McNeill won his first PGA Tour title here, finishing at 23-under 264 for a four-stroke victory over D.J. Trahan. However, preparing to return to TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas to try for a second consecutive title became a secondary concern when a preliminary examination indicated that McNeill might have lymphoma.

It was eventually determined that McNeill had a golf ball-sized bronchial cyst in his neck that doctors said needed to be removed.

"They didn't know exactly what it was and the first thoughts of the doctors were cancer," McNeill told reporters. "It was something that it turned out not to be anything. It was just something that happened to flare when it did. Everything is better now and I'm out playing golf."

McNeill was able to play in the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs at The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship. With him failing to qualify for the third leg of the playoffs, he underwent a medical procedure and was out of action for five weeks.

McNeill's return came at the Turning Stone Resort Championship the first week of October, where he finished tied for 22nd.

"I wasn't sure I was going to be able to play there," said McNeill, who has six top-25 finishes in 25 starts this year, including a pair of top 10s. "I thought at first this was going to be my first week back, but I felt fine and I felt good enough and healthy enough to go play Turning Stone, so I did. It's really boring sitting at home."

Pop singer and actor Justin Timberlake is hosting this year's event, which begins today. Timberlake becomes the 13th celebrity to host a PGA Tour event, joining the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Timberlake said he normally plays 30-50 rounds a year, but wishes it could be more.

"That's the double-edged sword of the game of golf," Timberlake told reporters. "When work is good, you don't have time to play. And then when you're off work, you get more time to play and then you keep playing and playing and playing, and all of a sudden you're like, ‘I need to work again so I can play some more.'"

McNeill said Timberlake's involvement with the tournament has made a big difference.

"There are a lot more people here for a Wednesday Pro-Am than what we're used to seeing," McNeill said. "There are a lot of people on the range watching. Obviously with the stars, not only Justin, but some of the other people, actors and athletes that showed up to support the event, I think it's wonderful.

"A lot players that normally wouldn't come here and play are playing."

The field for the fourth in the seventh of seven Fall Series events includes former major champions Zach Johnson, John Daily, Mike Weir and Davis Love III as well as U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger. Chad Campbell, Hunter Mahan and Fred Couples are also entered.

Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

SCHEDULE: Thursday-Sunday
SITE: Las Vegas
COURSE: TPC Summerlin (7,243 yards, par 72)
PURSE: $4.1 million (winner's share: $738,000)
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday, 5-8 p.m., 11 p.m.-2 a.m. EDT; Friday-Sunday, 6-8 a.m., 5-8 p.m., 11 p.m.-2 a.m. EDT; Monday, 6-8 a.m. EDT).

October 16, 2008

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