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O'Hair birdies way to lead

The 24-year-old, one stroke ahead of Mickelson, is putting past behind him.

By BOB HARIG
Published May 13, 2007


PONTE VEDRA BEACH - The biggest prize, one of the most prestigious championships in golf, awaits. And so does the pressure that comes with it.

Sean O'Hair knows the discomfort associated with having to make birdies and pars down the stretch, the desperate feeling of failure. He has been there. But it is unlikely that today could ever compare. In fact, it might seem like a breeze.

O'Hair, 24, took the third-round lead Saturday at the Players Championship when he birdied the final three holes at the TPC Sawgrass for a one-shot advantage over Phil Mickelson.

Then came the questions O'Hair no longer wants to answer.

The former student at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton prefers not to be known for having an overbearing father who pushed him so hard the two no longer speak.

Still that is a big part of his story, one that he has overcome to become the PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2005, victorious at the John Deere Classic the same year and a winner of more than $4-million in his brief career.

"It's unfortunate that my father and I are in the situation that we're in, but obviously that's the way it is, and we've got to live with it," O'Hair said. "As far as my family is concerned, I keep telling everybody that is where the good stuff is coming from.

"If you don't have a good support group, you're not going to play good golf. It's not like I'm playing in spite of my father. I'm playing golf because I love it. I'm playing golf because I want to be one of the better players."

O'Hair shot 6-under 66 with eight birdies and two bogeys to finish at 9-under-par 207. Mickelson birdied the final hole to shoot 69 and get into the last group with O'Hair. Jeff Quinney shot 64 to tie for third with Peter Lonard 68, who made double eagle at the second hole. They were two back.

It is amazing to think that O'Hair turned pro at 17 at the urging of his father, Marc, who more or less admitted in an interview with 60 Minutes that he viewed his son as a commodity.

"I was in business 20-plus years, and I know how to make a profit," he told CBS in 2002. "You've got the same old thing -- it's material, labor and overhead. He's pretty good labor."

The stories are legendary. At American Junior Golf Association events, O'Hair would make his son run a mile for bogeys or every stroke he finished over par.

After Sean turned pro in 1999, father and son traveled the country competing in mini-tour events, with Marc in the role of cook, caddie, chauffeur. But Sean was not having success, and the pressure was mounting. There was a contract Marc had Sean sign that required his son to pay him 10 percent of any earnings.

"The thing about my dad is that, in his own twisted way, he did the best he could for me," O'Hair told GolfWorld in 2005, shortly after earning his PGA Tour card. "But anyone who has the right perspective thinks he's crazy."

O'Hair's life changed when he met Jackie Lucas, whom he married in 2002. They have two children. Lucas' father, Steve, is O'Hair's caddie. O'Hair and his father have not spoken since the wedding, and while he threatened to come after his son for the money he felt he was owed, he said after Sean's victory at the John Deere Classic that he would drop the claim.

"The past is behind me," O'Hair said Saturday. "And I don't really know if it has an effect on anything. All I can say is I've got a great support group. My wife, my kids, my in-laws ... they're a huge part of my life. My mom (Brenda) is always calling me and supporting me. ... And I think that's where it comes from, not the other stuff."

O'Hair might not have a lot of experience as a pro, but he is doing what is necessary to win. He led the field hitting fairways at 86 percent and was fourth in greens in regulation.

Doing it for one more day with the popular Mickelson as his playing partner won't be easy.

But O'Hair has faced far worse.

Bob Harig can be reached at harig@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8806.

 

THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday's leaderboard

Sean O'Hair 72-69-66 207 -9

Phil Mickelson 67-72-69 208 -8

Jeff Quinney 71-74-64 209 -7

Peter Lonard 69-72-68 209 -7

Notables

Chris DiMarco 68-74-69 211 -5

Sergio Garcia 73-73-67 213 -3

Tiger Woods 75-73-73 221 +5

Today

TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach

TV: 2 p.m., Ch. 8.

Weather: Scattered thunderstorms, high 83 and low 68 with 40 percent chance for rain.