CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Standing on the 18th tee, Sean O’Hair asked his caddie where he stood in the Quail Hollow Championship and got word that he had a one-shot lead.
“Over who?” O’Hair replied.
It wasn’t Tiger Woods. It might not have mattered.
Five weeks after blowing a five-shot lead at Bay Hill against the world’s No. 1 player, O’Hair was determined to keep putting himself in contention until he figured out how to win down the stretch.
That time came Sunday against one of the strongest fields of the year, with Woods in his rearview mirror.
O’Hair, 26, closed with a 3-under 69 – the only player from the last nine groups to break 70 – and made enough key birdies that finishing with consecutive bogeys on the two toughest holes at Quail Hollow didn’t cost him.
He wound up with a one-shot victory over Lucas Glover and Bubba Watson to become only the third player in his 20s with at least three PGA Tour victories. The others are Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.
“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.”
O’Hair took the outright lead with a two-putt birdie from 70 feet on the 15th, then seized control with an 8-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 16th hole, allowing him some room for error on the frightening finishing holes.
“I just hit it as hard as I could and tried to flight it,” O’Hair said, “and hit really a perfect golf shot.”
Glover, who bogeyed the par-3 17th, had a chance to force a playoff until his approach bounded over the firm green and his birdie chip turned away to the left. He closed with a 71 to join Watson (70) in a tie for second.
Woods struggled with his game throughout the final round, but he still had a chance to tie for the lead when he drove the par-4 14th green and had an eagle putt from just inside 25 feet. He three-putted for par, then failed to birdie the par-5 15th. Woods finished with 10 straight pars for a 72 to finish alone in fourth, two shots behind.
“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.”
Watson, who has never won on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour, was atop the leaderboard for most of the back nine until he couldn’t make the short putts required of champions. He missed from 6 feet for birdie on the 15th, and the same distance on the 16th.
Glover also missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 15th that ultimately cost him.
O’Hair allowed for a few nervous moments with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet on the 18th, one of the fastest putts on the course. He was spared when Glover’s shot was too strong.
“I thought it was good, I really did,” Glover said of his pitching wedge. “It was either wind or adrenaline, probably a little of both.”
O’Hair, who finished at 11-under 277, will move up to No. 12 in the world ranking, his highest position ever. He also earned $1.17 million, giving him just short of $3 million for the year, more than he has ever made in any one season.
Not bad for a guy who once traveled the mini-tours with his wife in a 40-foot bus, at times having to sit out tournaments because he couldn’t afford the entry fees, playing others under pressure to make money to eat.
Now they have two children, with another one due next month.
“I think that’s the stuff that makes this so sweet,” O’Hair said. “It makes the hard work worth it, and it’s just really nice to enjoy it with her, especially where we came from.”
Zach Johnson, who had a two-shot lead to start the final round, imploded on the par-3 second hole with a triple bogey from the trees. He wound up with a 76.
O’Hair recalls running into Woods on Monday at the Masters, eight days after the Bay Hill fiasco, nodding to a friend but grumbling under his breath at the reminder of what went wrong.
On Sunday, Woods hung around long enough to congratulate O’Hair, who was holding 4-year-old daughter Molly. O’Hair said Woods sent him a text message after Bay Hill with “some nice words.”
Woods had more for him on Sunday.
“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.”