Some Breathing Room For O'Hair

March 27, 2009

O'Hair will pair off with Tiger in the final grouping for the second year in a row.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Sean O'Hair survived a windy, rugged test Saturday at Bay Hill and wound up in the final group with Tiger Woods for the second straight year -- with one big difference.

This time, the tournament is in his hands.

Despite three bogeys in the last four holes, O'Hair had a 1-over 71 and a five-shot lead over Woods going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"Sometimes, you have to hang on for dear life," O'Hair said. "Those three bogeys didn't reflect how I played."

Woods, the defending champion and a five-time winner at Bay Hill, was fortunate to be only five behind. He made bogey putts of 10 feet and 25 feet on the last three holes, the last one on No. 18 after Woods never found a shot that plugged into the bank of the lake.

O'Hair and Woods were part of a five-way tie after 54 holes last year, and Woods won with a 25-foot birdie on the last hole.

Woods, who had a 71, has never won at Bay Hill when trailing going into the last round. His largest comeback on the PGA Tour was five shots at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2000.

It was a wild finish that matched the day at Bay Hill.

O'Hair had a six-shot lead with four holes to play when just like everyone else, he had to hang on for dear life. But at least he wound up in the best spot, at 7-under 203 and the largest 54-hole lead at Bay Hill since Woods led by five in 2003.

Woods had a flyer from the rough on the 16th hole that hit a cart path and went 50 yards right of the 16th green. His chip went over the green and nearly into the water, and he knocked in a 10-footer to escape with bogey.

From deep rough on the 18th, he again went at the green, and the ball disappeared into the shaggy bank framing the lake. After a search lasting five minutes, Woods returned to the fairway, then made his longest putt of the week to at least secure a spot in the final group.

That was the least of his worries.

"To be honest, I didn't want to end up with a double bogey," he said. "I finished over par, but I thought I played better than that."

Jason Gore, who received a sponsor's exemption from the tournament host, was poised to join Woods and O'Hair until a three-putt from 5 feet on the final hole for a double bogey, giving him a 74.

A prime example of the tough scoring conditions was former Masters champion Zach Johnson. He started the third round nine shots out of the lead, shot a 68 and will play in the final group with O'Hair and Woods.

Because of rain in the forecast, the starting times Sunday will be threesomes in the middle of the day. If the forecast for heavy overnight rain holds true, it could drastically change a Bay Hill course that has been firm, fast and tough all week.

The third round was the toughest yet, with the average score nearly 3½ shots over par.

"You're just plotting your way around -- fairway, green, then trying to two-putt most of the time," Johnson said. "It's difficult. Par is a great number today."

So great that only four players broke par, and four others shot even.

Ryuji Imada had a 73 and was tied at 1-under 209 with Gore and Johnson. No one else was under par.

Brandt Snedeker had the best round Saturday -- a 67 with no bogeys, which was astounding given the harsh conditions. His reward was a rocket ride up the leaderboard, moving up 42 spots into a tie for sixth at 210.

One reason the round took so long was an unusual ruling on the ninth hole involving Kevin Na.

He pulled his tee shot to the left, where there are out-of-bounds stakes near the fence of the driving range. A woman retrieved the ball, and once she was located, the rules official asked where she had picked it up.

She pointed to a spot that was about a foot OB, and official Steve Rintoul told Na he would have to play his provisional.

Na was furious. He said the women's husband first said the ball was against the cart path, then the woman said she wasn't sure. He said she only pointed to the spot after Rintoul arrived. Na demanded to see head rules official Mark Russell, who upheld the decision.

He took triple bogey and played his next five holes in 3 over.

"I don't care if you're Buddha, you're going to be upset," he said. "Am I mad at the lady? No. I'm mad at the situation."

It was only one oddity in a third round that was filled with them.

Divots: Davis Love III, who missed the cut, might still be able to get into the top 50 in the world and qualify for the Masters, but he needs some help. He would need Stuart Appleby to finish out of the top 32 and Aaron Baddeley to finish lower than 56th. The two Aussies were tied for 59th going into the final round. ... Vaughn Taylor's tee shot landed in the eighth fairway when he heard a sonic boom from the return of space shuttle Discovery. Tiger Woods looked over at him and smiled, and the gallery joined in the laughter. ... Hunter Mahan birdied three of his four holes, then played his final 10 holes in 7 over, including a 40 on the back nine.