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O'Hair gets redemption with win at Quail Hollow

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Tiger Woods was the last person Sean O'Hair wanted to see.

It was Monday at the Masters, just eight days after O'Hair squandered a five-shot lead and watched the world's No. 1 player celebrate at his expense.

'I was playing a practice round and I saw Tiger, and he looked over and I kind of nodded, and he said something. And I'm like, 'That son of a (gun),' O'Hair said with a laugh.

It was a reminder of everything that had gone wrong at Bay Hill.

They ran into each other again Sunday evening at the Quail Hollow Championship, the circumstances entirely different.

With a dozen players in contention on a course that felt like a major, O'Hair was the only one in the final nine groups to break 70. As one player after another failed to capitalize on birdie chances, O'Hair came through with a tough two-putt birdie from 70 feet on the 15th hole, followed by an 8-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 16th.

That enabled him to close with two bogeys on the two toughest holes at Quail Hollow, giving him a 3-under 69. It held up for a one-shot victory when Lucas Glover's birdie chip from behind the 18th green trailed off to the left.

Woods was still outside the clubhouse when he saw O'Hair, enough time for a quick embrace and to offer congratulations.

'It was cool that he came up and did that,' O'Hair said.

This was a reminder of how far O'Hair has come in such a short time.

Five weeks after that collapse, the 26-year-old was determined to keep putting himself into contention on the back nine Sunday until he figured out how to win down the stretch.

The time came Sunday at Quail Hollow.

O'Hair rallied from a three-shot deficit for a one-shot victory over Glover (71) and Bubba Watson (70), with Woods in his rearview mirror throughout the back nine.

Woods finished with 10 straight pars, including a three-putt from 25 feet after driving the par-4 14th green. He wound up with a 72 to finish alone in fourth, two shots behind.

O'Hair has a history of not folding. He was driven by a relentless father and forced to turn pro when he was 16, still a junior in high school. He managed to break away, got married, and he and wife Jackie traveled the mini-tours in a 40-foot bus, sometimes unable to play because they didn't have money for the entry fee, often playing for their next meal.

'Losing (stunk) at Bay Hill,' O'Hair said. 'Even though it's tough to lose like that, to lose a five-shot lead against Tiger, you still learn from it. I talked to my coach. I talked to my caddie, Paul (Tesori). And we just all said all I have to do is keep putting myself in those situations, and at some point I'm going to learn how to win. It's just nice to win as quickly as I did after Bay Hill.'

It wasn't easy.

Even with a shaky swing, Woods' presence loomed at Quail Hollow. He spun back a delicate pitch shot to tap-in range for birdie on the eighth hole to get within one shot of the lead at the time, and appeared to be hitting his stride.

Instead, he hit it into the trees on the par-5 10th, eliminating a good chance at birdie. And he kept coming up well short of the pin, unable to produce the right trajectory for the wind.

But nothing stung worse than the 14th, with fans waving white towels at the sight of his ball tumbling down the fairway and stopping just inside 25 feet from the cup for a chance at eagle, with a par 5 awaiting on the next hole.

Woods ultimately had to make a 5-footer just to save par.

'I had my opportunity there at 14. I made a mistake there,' Woods said. 'I knew the green was baked out. It was downwind, and I didn't heed my own warning, and ended up putting too hard.'

Birdies are rare on the final three holes, known as the 'Green Mile,' and both the runner-ups dropped a shot along that stretch - Watson at the 16th, Glover at the 17th.

If there was a key shot for O'Hair, it came at the 16th. He blistered a tee shot, then hit 8-iron into a stiff breeze just over the bunker to about 8 feet away and a birdie that gave him a two-shot lead.

'I just hit it as hard as I could and tried to flight it,' O'Hair said, 'and hit really a perfect golf shot.'

And it was the perfect ending.

O'Hair finished at 11-under 277 and earned $1.17 million, giving him just under $3 million for the year, more than he has ever earned over any full season. He moves up to No. 12 in the world, and to fourth place in the Presidents Cup standings, giving him a good chance to make his first U.S. team for any cup.

He also moved into some elite company.

With his third PGA Tour victory, O'Hair joined Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott as the only players in their 20s with three or more wins.

Plus, he had another conversation with Woods after a tournament, this one a happier occasion.

'He's got all the talent. We know that,' Woods said. 'We've seen how well he's played. He's been through a lot off the golf course, and it's just a matter of time before all that settles in.'