They arrived in Morocco in early February to begin a nearly three-month stretch in which they will compete in eight Atlas Pro Tour events.
O’Neal, 38, a former Nationwide Tour member with 129 career starts on the PGA Tour’s junior circuit, was the tournament’s 18- and 36-hole leader, following rounds of 66-67 to open his week at stunning Palmeraie Golf Club in Marrakech.
Entering Friday’s final round at 11-under, O’Neal had a narrow two-shot advantage over Scotland’s Ross Kellett. Cool overnight temperatures left the greens at Palmeraie frozen, and forced tournament officials to delay final-round tee times – a move that left O’Neal with time to think—perhaps not the best thing for the nerves of a player who had slept on the lead for two days.
"We had to wait because of the greens, and I was a little nervous, but once I started playing well I was able to birdie the par-5 second,” O’Neal said. “From there, I felt more relaxed.
The birdie at the docile second hole pushed O’Neal’s tally to 12-under for the tournament, and when he made the turn with a 2-under 34, his 13-under par total left him two shots clear of Delpodio, who had played his first 12 holes of the final round in 5-under par.
“After the front nine, I had to look at the leaderboard, because I like to know where I am,” O’Neal said. “I saw Delpodio was two strokes back, so I told myself that I had to make some more birdies."
Birdies at Nos. 10, 13, 16 and 17 vaulted O’Neal to 17-under par, and when Delpodio parred his final six holes, O’Neal went to the 18th with a four-shot lead and the title virtually in hand. A closing bogey left the former Jackson State golfer at 16 under for the week, three clear of Delpodio.
Greeting O’Neal on the 18th green were Schaff, Hack and Condello – all elated to see their fellow ambassador win in his first Atlas Pro Tour start.
The win was worth €5,000 (the equivalent of $6,593), and moved O’Neal to No. 1 on the Atlas Tour’s winter series money list. O’Neal’s dominant performance included a staggering 23 birdies over 54 holes, a remarkable 42.6 percent.
“I really played solidly today, even more so than during the past two days,” O’Neal said after the final round. “I only missed one green today and made my lone bogey at the fourth. A win is always important whatever the tournament is, and this one will for sure give me confidence in 2012.”
Schaff, one of O’Neal’s long-time friends, was the next low American with rounds of 71-70-69—210 to finish tied for sixth. Condello parlayed rounds of 69-70-74—213 into a T19 finish, while two-time eGolf Tour winner Hack missed the cut.
To follow the progress of O’Neal and his fellow ambassadors on the Atlas Tour, visit www.alpstourgolf.com.