Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., May 13 He could've been crushed. He could've been angry. He could've been tearful.
Sean O'Hair was none of those things. Shortly after the kind of finish that makes grown golfers cringe hitting two shots into the lake at the famed island-green 17th hole O'Hair was confident and defiant. He had stared down Phil Mickelson for 16 holes. He had gone toe to toe with him before two splashes led to a quadruple-bogey 7 and knocked O'Hair out of contention so quickly it was almost surgical.
"I will win this tournament," O'Hair said afterward. "This course fits me and I like it. I don't think it's an if, I will win this tournament."
There's something else you should know about O'Hair. That shot in the water at 17 on Sunday it didn't happen because he choked or was nervous or feeling the pressure. It happened because he went for broke and simply misread the wind direction.
"I could've gone for the middle of the green and taken two putts and taken second place, but I'm not going to do that," said O'Hair, 24. "And I got kicked in the teeth today."
He told Steve Lucas, his caddie (who also happens to be his father-in-law): "I'm not playing for second." Then O'Hair pulled the 9-iron and aimed for the flag. He was two strokes behind Mickelson, who had already safely put his approach shot in the middle of the green, 35 feet away, and would likely make par.
The Sunday pin at 17 is not a flag to shoot at, much like the Sunday pin on the 12th hole at Augusta National. But O'Hair, who lives in West Chester, Pa., took the chance because he felt he had little choice.
The man with one PGA Tour victory to his credit (the 2005 John Deere Classic) chasing the man with 30 titles, including three majors, rolled the dice. When he swung the club, the ball took off on line, right at the flag. It appeared, frankly, that O'Hair had stiffed it.
"I thought it was a perfect shot," O'Hair said. "I thought it was good. I'm posing. When the crowd screamed, I thought it was going to be a cheer, and it was a groan. That's when I knew. I was a little bit shocked and deflated."
His shot flew over the bulkhead on the back of the green, almost directly over the flag, and splashed in the lake. It was a couple of yards too far on that line.
"I thought the wind was dead across on 16, so it shouldn't have been any different at 17," O'Hair said. "If anything, it should have been a little bit into me."