Commentary

O'Hair owns 5-shot lead over Tiger

Originally Published: March 28, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Perhaps now he can return the favor.

A year ago, Sean O'Hair had a front-row seat to history, a perfect view of the final-hole histrionics that made for another Tiger Woods highlight reel.

O'Hair became the answer to a trivia question: He was the guy standing on the edge of the 18th green at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge as Woods holed his winning birdie putt and then unknowingly whipped his cap to the ground in celebration.

That left O'Hair to stand there and wait for the ringing in his ears to subside, the crowd going crazy and his own work to finish. O'Hair, who had begun the final round in a five-way tie for the lead and in the final twosome with Woods, ended up tied for third.

"Obviously it was cool to see the putt go in," O'Hair said. "It didn't matter for me because I was out of it, but it was cool to see that whole thing on 18 and just kind of how -- you had a feeling when he was stalking the putt how he was going to -- you had a good feeling about it. But as a competitor you're just ticked off that you didn't have the opportunity to take it to 18."

O'Hair hopes he has the Arnold Palmer Invitational all wrapped up by the time it gets to the 18th hole on Sunday, and there is no drama with which to deal.

But he's got Woods to contend with again if he is to get his third PGA Tour victory. This time, he's got a 5-stroke advantage -- which just happens to be the largest final-round deficit Woods has ever made up on the PGA Tour.

It would take that kind of rally to rival the kind of wild scene that occurred Saturday.

Woods bogeyed two of the last three holes -- making long putts just to stave off double bogey on each -- and actually gained ground on O'Hair, who bogeyed three of the last four holes.

Jason Gore, who appeared poised to finish 4 behind O'Hair in second place, 3-putted the final green from 5 feet after chipping from the fringe and made double-bogey. And that came after his caddie tripped on a sprinkler head and fell to the ground while Gore was just about to stroke a par putt on the 17th green. Gore backed off -- then missed.

Zach Johnson, who began the day tied for 28th, shot 2-under-par 68 to move up 25 spots into a tie for third.

Ryuji Imada started the day tied for third, shot 3-over 73 -- and is still tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker, who shot 67 for the day's low round, moved up 42 spots into a tie for sixth.

And then there was the Space Shuttle Discovery, which landed 60 miles away in Cape Canaveral on Saturday afternoon just about the time Woods was making his first birdie on No. 8. The sonic boom that Discovery produced when it entered Earth's atmosphere didn't do much for those in the middle of their backswings.

(For the record, the shuttle was supposed to land 90 minutes earlier, but wind and cloud cover forced it to orbit the Earth again -- which took less time than it did to play nine holes at Bay Hill.)

"I thought something exploded," O'Hair said. "I was looking for smoke."

All he needed to do was check out Tiger's ears after Woods' wedge shot to the 18th green from the rough came up well short and dropped between the hazard stakes and the water.

Television replays showed the ball did not splash, but nobody could find it. After the five-minute limit searching, Woods had to go back behind the hazard and play his fourth shot after a penalty. He then rolled in a 25-foot putt for bogey that at least kept him within shouting distance of O'Hair.

"I thought I played well all day," said Woods, whose 71 was his worst round of the tournament. "Unfortunately, I finished up over par but I played better than that."

Only five players -- O'Hair, Woods, Johnson, Imada and Gore -- are under par through 54 holes. And none were able to negotiate the final three holes in even par.

"It's playing almost like a major championship," said NBC broadcaster Johnny Miller. "The golf course is getting its licks in."

Arnold Palmer Invitational

1. O'Hair (-7)
2. Woods (-2)
T-3. Imada (-1)
T-3. Johnson (-1)
T-3. Gore (-1)
• Complete scores

"I feel very good and very comfortable about where my game is right now," said O'Hair, 26, whose last victory came just over a year ago at what is now the Transitions Championship. "I told Paul [Tesori], my caddie, when I was signing my scorecard, I bogeyed three of the last four holes, and I don't think I missed a shot.

"I don't know how you're supposed to play a golf course like that. I think everybody just tries to hang on for dear life."

O'Hair at least has a cushion that can help him Sunday with Woods in his presence.

The world's No. 1 player has yet to put it all together in his third tournament back since knee surgery. While he hit the ball beautifully two weeks ago at Doral, that has not been the case here. For the second time in three days, Woods found water on the par-5 sixth and has played the hole -- which he would normally expect to birdie -- in 3 over par.

He did hit 9 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens -- his best of the week. But it didn't get him any closer to his 66th PGA Tour win.

Woods will, again, need to do something special if he is to win his sixth Arnold Palmer Invitational.

If not, he will have the perfect view of somebody else's celebration.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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