O’Hair looks to avenge one that got away
By: By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Sean O’Hair took several shots at the famed 17th green at TPC Sawgrass during practice rounds this week and landed safely each time.
It wasn’t so easy a year ago.
O’Hair ended any chance he had at winning The Players Championship when his 9-iron flew a yard over the back of the island hole and splashed into the murky lagoon.
The crowd groaned, O’Hair bowed his head in disbelief at that moment and walked to the drop area.
Then he put another ball in the water, this one skipping toward the back of the green and hopping over the boards.
O’Hair finished with a quadruple-bogey 7 that allowed Phil Mickelson a carefree walk up the 18th hole to victory.
“Obviously, I didn’t finish the way I wanted to, but I was trying to win a golf tournament,” O’Hair said Wednesday, one day before he gets another shot at the Players. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way I planned, but it’s definitely one of those things you learn from.
“A lot of people thought that was going to dictate my career or affect me as a player. If anything, it’s made me a better player and it’s kind of made me realize what it takes to be a champion out here.”
O’Hair bounced back a few weeks later and tied for fifth at the Memorial.
He had seven more top-25 finishes in 2007, then notched his second career win two months ago at the PODS Championship in Tampa.
He expects to play well again this week, calling Sawgrass “one of those courses that I see myself winning at.”
He almost did it last year.
O’Hair had a one-shot lead over Mickelson going into the final round, but it was erased when Mickelson rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the first hole.
O’Hair kept it close until a series of mistakes on the back nine.
He failed to make birdie from the bunker in front of the 11th green and missed birdie putts inside 10 feet on Nos. 15 and 16.
He was two strokes behind heading to the notorious 17th.
He could have played safe, landed a shot in the middle of the green and probably secured a second-place finish.
Instead, he told his caddie and father-in-law, “I’m not playing for second.”
After the disaster on 17 and a bogey on the closing hole, O’Hair ended up 11th — a fall that cost him $747,000 in prize money.
O’Hair called Tiger Woods and Steve Elkington for advice after the tournament, seeking opinions on where he went wrong.
They told him instead of trying to knock his tee shot close, he should have played it safe and given himself a birdie putt. And if it didn’t go in, then he could have taken more risks on the final hole.
“If I take par there, there’s no telling what Phil might have done,” O’Hair said. “I know for a fact that he would have felt a lot more pressure on 18 than he did. … The right intention was there. It’s just maybe the inexperience played into it a little bit.”
O’Hair has fielded questions about the island hole for the past year, and the debacle even crossed his mind as he reached No. 17 during his practice rounds. Only this time, he walked off the green with a much different results — all pars.
“You try your heart out and it didn’t work out,” O’Hair said. “Oh, well. There’s going to be 1,000 more tournaments for me to win or to try and win. That’s what I look forward to.”