The friendship grew stronger over the years, and reached a point this springthat O’Hair and Woods were playfully jawing at each other about the NBA playoffsbefore the final round of the Quail Hollow Championship. O’Hair jumped pastWoods and others that day for his biggest PGA Tour victory, and Woods hungaround after it was over to congratulate him.
Their relationship reached another level at East Lake.
They played a practice round on the eve of the Tour Championship, and whenO’Hair had a few questions about putting, Woods was only too happy to impartsome advice and a few tips.
Perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but in the opening round Thursday,O’Hair made enough putts on firm greens for a 4-under 66 that gave him aone-shot lead over a trio of British Open champions—Woods included.
“I’m going to go chew him out right now,” Woods said.
Woods was joking, for it is typical in this sport for players to help eachother even as they’re trying to beat each other. O’Hair is the first to concedethat his putting has held him back in his five years on tour, and he wasn’tafraid to ask for advice.
The tip was technical. O’Hair tends to take the putter back squarely, thenhold onto it through the putt. Woods suggested that he open the face on the wayback, which would allow him to release the putter on the way through.
O’Hair doesn’t have it down pat, at least not yet. It was the idea thatWoods was willing to help that meant so much.
“I believe in what he said, and I think it’s the key for me to kind of takemy putting to another level,” O’Hair said. “Getting advice like that from goodplayers is obviously awesome, but getting it from basically the greatest of alltime is pretty cool.
“I mean, I’m his competition. For him to help me out like he did was veryclassy.”
Only eight players managed to break par in the final FedEx Cup playoffevent, with a $10 million bonus going to the winner. O’Hair is the No. 7 seed,meaning he would have to win the Tour Championship and have Woods finish in athree-way tie for second or worse.
So far, so good. And so much golf is left to be played.
O’Hair could only imagine what it would be like to try out his putting tipon the 18th green Sunday with a chance to go home with $11.35 million, thecombined earnings of the FedEx Cup and Tour Championship.
“If I do have that opportunity, I hope I have a five-shot lead,” he said.
Woods doesn’t regret giving O’Hair the putting advice.
“It’s very simple,” Woods said. “You always help your friends. Sean is afriend of mine, and like all my friends, you always try to make their lifebetter somehow. Sean has been struggling a bit on the greens this year, and Ithought I could offer a little bit of help and insight to how he could changethat.”
Woods, who is in the best shape to capture the FedEx Cup as the No. 1 seed,could have used some help early in the round. As O’Hair, Harrington and Cinkwere setting an early pace, Woods was headed in the wrong direction by failingto save par from a bunker on the par-3 sixth, and making bogey on the eighthfrom the rough to go 1 over.
He was six shots behind at one point, then closed quickly.
“This golf course, you have to be very patient, especially with greens thisfirm,” Woods said. “It’s really hard to get the ball close unless you drivethe ball in the fairway and have a short iron in.”
Stricker, the No. 2 seed, was among those at 70.
It was hard to believe that a course that was closed Monday and part ofTuesday because of 20 inches of rain over the past week could deliver some ofthe firmest greens on tour this year. Attribute that to a sub-air system on thegreens installed last year, and a hot sun that left players reaching for towelsto wipe sweat off their brow.
“The course was playing fairly long, and then the greens are justincredibly firm, probably the most firm we’ve played all year,” O’Hair said.“Maybe The Players Championship is a close second. Kind of ironic since we gotso much rain.”
O’Hair was sporty from the rough, too. He made his first birdie with a wedgeout of the rough on No. 3 that stopped a foot away, then made another birdie atNo. 12 under similar circumstances, from the right rough with just enough spinto stop 2 feet from the hole.
Cink narrowly made the 30-man field at No. 26 and the scenarios are too manyto count for him to win the FedEx Cup. All he cared about Thursday was breakingpar, like so many others.
“Considering all that rain we had, it’s really dried out, and the greensare like bricks,” Cink said. “You have to be very smart coming into the greensto give yourself any kind of aggressive birdies.”