Sean O’Hair felt as if he was doing everything required of a winner except winning.
Despite long hours on the practice range, he found himself toward the bottom of the leaderboard, if he even made the cut. A weekend off at the Honda Classic last week gave him ample time to visit with his father-in-law, and the message finally got through.
“He told me how he believed in me, how he felt I was on the right track, and if I started believing in myself, everything would happen,” O’Hair said Sunday after winning the PODS Championship.
“I didn’t believe him. But I guess he was right.”
It required solid play, two good pars and a birdie putt that O’Hair described as the best of his career. But he also needed a meltdown from Stewart Cink, who lost four shots in four holes and couldn’t figure out what he did wrong.
The 25-year-old O’Hair took advantage of a collapse by Cink to energize his young career with his second PGA Tour victory, closing with a 2-under 69 for a two-shot victory that earned him a trip to the Masters and a spot in the US$8 million World Golf Championship at Doral.
“This is not going to hurt my confidence,” said O’Hair, who finished at 4-under 280. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Cink had a tee shot stop next to a tree that led to bogey on a par 5, missed a 4-foot birdie on the next hole, then followed that with a tee shot into the water at the 16th. He wound up with a 74 to finish in a six-way tie for second.
“I’m a little shell-shocked and a little bit angry,” Cink said. “I’m extremely frustrated after this. What happened to me – what I allowed to happen to me – is going to make me a better player in the future. But I’ve got some soul-searching to do.”
For O’Hair, a big celebration is in order.
He hadn’t won since 2005, when he was a rookie and golf felt easy. He had fallen to No. 75 in the world and had no plans the second week of April. But his victory moved him into the top 40 in the world, making him eligible for Doral and Augusta National.
“When I won (the first time), it just kind of happened,” O’Hair said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I didn’t really appreciate it. I thought I was good enough to do this every year. But it’s been such a struggle to get to this point again. This is awesome, and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Cink suffered a loss perhaps even more devastating than the Accenture Match Play Championship blowout against Tiger Woods.
Cink had a four-shot lead after birdies on the first two holes, and he still had the lead going to the back nine. But he missed a simple birdie on the 12th, three-putted from long range on the 13th, and looked up to the sunny skies in utter disbelief when he found his ball nestled up against a pine on the 14th.
“I didn’t feel like I made any real mistakes,” Cink said. “When I saw my ball up against the tree on 14, I was starting to wonder if this wasn’t my day. I was a little bit shocked. But I put myself in that position.”
He made a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that allowed him to join a six-way tie for second.
John Senden closed with a 67 and was a runner-up for the second straight year, both times finishing about an hour before the leaders. He tied for second with Cink (74), Ryuji Imada (68), George McNeill (69), Troy Matteson (69) and Billy Mayfair (72).
Cink is winless since the 2004 Bridgestone Invitational. This was the third time in five tournaments he has played in the final group.
The Copperhead Course played nearly two shots over par, making it the toughest track on tour this year. O’Hair’s winning score of 280 was the highest ever at Innisbrook. But he was the only player to shoot par or better all four rounds, and he saved his best for Sunday.
He got into the mix with a birdie on the opening hole. His chip from behind the 11th green to tap-in range for birdie pulled him within one shot. Then came a couple of par putts in the 4- to 5-foot range, to stay in the lead.
After a 7-iron to 30 feet below the cup on the 15th, O’Hair raised his arm when it dropped in the centre of the cup.
“One of the best putts I’ve ever hit in my life,” he said. “With 10 feet to go, I knew it was in the hole. From there, I was just trying not to throw up on myself.”
O’Hair is among only seven players in their 20s with multiple PGA Tour victories, and his future again looks bright.
For Cink, he could only wonder when the lessons would pay off. He is 1-8 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
“That’s not a coincidence,” he said. “I tend to be less aggressive with my putting. It’s like I’m a little bit tentative.”