ATLANTA – Sean O’Hair got a putting tip from Tiger Woods and put it to good use Thursday in the Tour Championship, opening with a 4-under 66 to take a one-shot lead in the final FedEx Cup playoff event.
Woods did all right himself. He recovered from a shaky start with three birdies during a four-hole stretch on the back nine at East Lake for a 67, leaving him one shot back along with Padraig Harrington and British Open champion Stewart Cink.
O’Hair played six times last week at home with his buddies. Far more valuable was the nine holes of practice he spent Wednesday with Woods, when the world’s No. 1 player gave him some advice on adding loft to his backswing and releasing the blade through the ball.
“Getting advice like that from good players is obviously awesome, but getting it from basically the greatest of all time is pretty cool,” O’Hair said. “I mean, I’m his competition, and for him to help me out like he did was very classy, I thought.”
“I’m going to go chew him out right now,” he said, laughing.
The tip seemed to work out on firm greens that were far tougher than the 30-man field could have imagined after so much rain.
O’Hair rolled in an 18-foot putt on the 14th hole for the last of his six birdies, and he made one from 55 feet earlier in the round. It was part of what he called a solid day, and it allowed the FedEx Cup possibilities to come to life.
O’Hair is the No. 7 seed and he knows exactly what has to happen for him to cash in on the $10 million prize – win the Tour Championship, and have Woods finish in a three-way tie for second. Oddly enough, that’s how the leaderboard shaped up after one day.
Woods doesn’t regret the advice, which is typical among golfers.
“It’s very simple,” Woods said. “You always help your friends. Sean is a friend of mine, and like all my friends, you always try to make their life better somehow. Sean has been struggling a bit on the greens this year, and I thought I could offer a little bit of help and insight to how he could change that.”
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 Cink were setting an early pace, Woods was headed in the wrong direction by failing to save par from a bunker on the par-3 sixth, and making bogey on the eighth from the rough to go 1 over.
He was six shots behind at one point, then closed quickly.
U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover had a 68, and only three other players managed to break par – Retief Goosen, Steve Marino and Dustin Johnson, who were at 69. Stricker, the No. 2 seed, was among those at 70.
It was hard to believe that a course that was closed Monday and part of Tuesday because of 20 inches of rain over the past week could deliver some of the firmest greens on tour this year. Attribute that to a sub-air system on the greens installed last year, and a hot sun that left players reaching for towels to wipe sweat off their brow.
“The course was playing fairly long, and then the greens are just incredibly 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 got so much rain.”
O’Hair was sporty from the rough, too. He made his first birdie with a wedge out of the rough on No. 3 that stopped a foot away, then made another birdie at No. 12 under similar circumstances, from the right rough with just enough spin to stop 2 feet from the hole.
Cink narrowly made the 30-man field at No. 26 and the scenarios are too many to count for him to win the FedEx Cup. All he cared about Thursday was breaking par, like so many other players.
“Under par … the golf course, considering all that rain we had, it’s really dried out, and the greens are like bricks,” he said. “You have to be very smart coming into the greens to give yourself any kind of aggressive birdies.”