Golf

Tiger's advice to O'Hair comes back to bite him

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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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ATLANTA

Players prepare for big golf tournaments in their own ways. Sean O'Hair got ready by playing money games with his buddies in Philadelphia for six straight days last week and having his wallet emptied. "Did a lot of gambling and lost a lot of money," a sheepish O'Hair said. "I was giving them too many shots. They were winning the bets on the first tee." The 27-year-old arrived in Atlanta not feeling especially confident, particularly in a putting stroke that has always been suspect. And then on Wednesday he played nine holes with Tiger Woods and received the tip that would help him get to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of The Tour Championship at East Lake. "I'm not even close to doing exactly what he's told me to do," O'Hair said after his 4-under-par 66. "But I truly believe in what he said, and I think it's the key for me to kind of take my putting to another level because, let's face it, that's kind of what's held me back for a long time." O'Hair had 28 putts — one fewer than Woods on the day — including a 56-footer and six others longer than 6 feet to capitalize on an excellent ball-striking display. But what impressed O'Hair more than Woods' keen eye for the mechanics of the putting stroke was his generosity of spirit. "Getting advice from basically the greatest of all time is pretty cool," O'Hair said. "But I think the thing that impresses me more is the quality of guy he is. I mean, I'm his competition, and for him to help me out like he did was very classy, I thought."
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Woods, who rebounded from a sluggish start to finish at 3-under, one shot back of O'Hair, made light of the help he'd offered, saying he was "going to go chew him out right now." But later he conceded it was just about helping friends. "It's very simple; you always help your friends," Woods said. "Sean is a friend of mine, and like all my friends, you always try to make their life better somehow. That's the whole idea of having friends in your life. "Sean has been struggling a little bit on the greens this year, and I thought I could offer a little bit of help and insight into how he could change that, and now, as I said, I'm going to go chew him out." Probably not an idle threat given that Woods, as O'Hair has noted in the past, is a world-class "ball buster"; high praise considering O'Hair is from Philly, where breaking huevos has been elevated to an art form. Woods was playful and relaxed after his round, but his disposition might have been different if the indifference of his first eight holes had continued. Woods had birdied the third hole from 5 feet but missed three other putts of between 10 and 15 feet to stumble to 1-over through eight holes. O'Hair, meanwhile, had rattled off five birdies against no blemishes to his card through his first 12 holes to lead Woods by six. It seemed things would get worse for Woods when he miscalculated a chip on the relatively benign ninth hole, leaving himself with a birdie putt of just over 10 feet. The putt fell, and he said it turned his fortunes. "I had just bogeyed six and eight and missed a short one there for bidie at seven, and it was nice to get one on nine," he said, "That chip came out a little warmer than I thought, and I didn't want to miss an opportunity there to make birdie. It's one of the very few birdie holes we have out there." After that, Woods sailed home in 32, the lowest score recorded by anyone in the 30-man field on the exacting back nine. "I felt if I just shot under par for the day, I'd be fine," he said, "There aren't going to be a lot of guys under par. "With this golf course, you have to be very patient, especially with greens this firm."
Woods joined a chorus of players in expressing surprise at how hard the putting surfaces are at East Lake given the heavy rains that have flooded the Atlanta area. A "sub-air" drying system has been installed beneath the greens, allowing them to absorb the deluge without ruining their playability. "Sub-air, it's amazing what it can do," Woods said. "If you look at some of these greens, it looks like they were in a drought. They're browned out." Woods said the second round would be tricky because the pin positions would be much more challenging than they were Thursday. "You've got to be very cautious going in there, because it's very easy to skip over the back, and you've got these down-grain, muffled lies where it's really hard to control what you're doing." O'Hair, meanwhile, knows that he'll have to keep playing well, especially with Woods lurking, to get his hands on the $10 million FedEx Cup prize money, which would more than soothe the sting of his losses last week in Philly. "The thing I've learned is that you have to go out there and play good golf," O'Hair said, "You're not going to play average golf against him and do anything worthwhile."

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