O’Hair 2 strokes off lead in The Players

Posted: May 11, 2007

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Sean O'Hair went out early this morning at The Players Championship, shot a tidy 69, and walked off the 18th green with a 36-hole total of 141 that left him 3 under par and happy to be in the hunt.

"Last couple of days, I've played very steady," said O'Hair, from West Chester, the 2005 rookie of the year.

With that, O'Hair, 24, was off to grab a little lunch and hit a few balls on the range at TPC Sawgrass before retreating to the nearby house he had rented for the week with his wife, Jackie, and their two young children, Molly and Luke.

As good as O'Hair must have felt about being 3 under, he had to figure that with the winds dying, scoring conditions would be ideal in the afternoon. And with first-round leaders Phil Mickelson and Rory Sabbatini both at 5 under after opening 67s and playing late in the day, there was no way one or both of them wouldn't get to 8 under, or maybe 9 under.

Guess what? They didn't.

Sabbatini shot a sloppy 79 and tumbled down the leader board. And Mickelson, after looking as if he was going into full meltdown mode on the front nine (two fairways hit, three greens, outward 37), pulled himself together enough to shoot an even-par 72, gaining no ground while remaining atop the board.

The bottom line: Going into today's third round, O'Hair is in the penultimate pairing with Peter Lonard of Australia, also at 3 under. They are a shot behind another Aussie, Nathan Green, and 2 shots behind Mickelson.

At one point today, as Mickelson was flailing away like a man possessed and giving back shots, O'Hair's name sat at the very top of the leader board. He was one of seven guys tied at 3 under.

For a time, it looked as if he might stay there. Who knew what would unfold? When the dust and cigar smoke finally settled, O'Hair was one of four players at 3 under.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, has looked out of sorts since he stuck the first peg in the ground Thursday, showing little of the command of his game he had in winning last week's Wachovia Championship.

With a 4-over total of 148, he barely made the cut. He didn't make a birdie in his first round - a rarity for Woods - and managed only two of them today as he hit only eight of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens.

"I just need to play better than I'm playing," Woods said. "I can't afford to make the mistakes I've made."

Of course, as lousy as Woods' day was, it was a study in smooth sailing compared to Mickelson's.

Infused with confidence from Butch Harmon, his new swing guru, Mickelson still hit it left and right, left and right, like the Mickelson of old.

He hit only two fairways and three greens on the front nine, and it seemed as if every time you looked up, all you could see was the top of his head as he tried to pull off a miraculous escape shot from the bottom of a bunker, or worse.

Except for his 13 one-putt greens, Mickelson's salvation came in the form of an eagle at the par-5 16th hole, where he ripped a 308-yard tee shot, then a 6-iron from 207 yards to seven feet.

The eagle got Mickelson back to even par for the day and earned him the sole lead with a 5-under total of 139.

"It was a big boost to get it back to even," Mickelson said. "Given how I played and some of the spots I put myself in, I'm very excited to shoot even."

By then, O'Hair was no doubt back at the house with the wife, kids and in-laws, Cathy and Steve Lucas, who doubles as his caddie.

"My support system," O'Hair called them when somebody asked whether it was tough being so young yet carrying so much responsibility.

"I almost feel like I'm better off having them than being out here alone," he added. "I'm not the type of guy that's going to go out and try and find a girlfriend or whatever. If I wasn't married, I'd still be in the hotel room watching TV."


Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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