With two young children and a third one on the way in June, Sean O'Hair doesn't need any more excitement in his life, unless i8t comes in the form of the golf he produced Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
O'Hair, a native Texan who lived in central Florida for a portion of his formative years, fired a virtually stress-free five-under-par 65 at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge to grab the midway lead by three strokes over Jason Gore. A two-time PGA Tour winner, O'Hair birdied six holes, including his first three, and didn't have much trouble until a bogey at the ninth, his final hole of the day. Nevertheless, he completed 36 holes at eight-under 132.
The five-time and defending champion Tiger Woods was alone in fifth place, five strokes behind, after his 68 and 137 total. Padraig Harrington, ranked No. 5 in the world, shared sixth place at 138 after his 68 in the pairing with Woods.
“Well, obviously I hit the ball really well. I think the driver really set my round up nicely,” said O’Hair, age 26, who tied for third last year at Bay Hill, three behind Woods. “I felt like if you’re swinging the driver nicely, you’re probably going to swing at the irons nicely. So I just gave myself a lot of opportunities for birdie, and there wasn’t a whole lot of drama as far as trying to make par saves and whatnot. Overall just, I think, I did everything fairly well today.”
O’Hair hit nine fairways, 11 greens and needed just 24 putts on Bay Hill’s hard and slick greens. He ranks among the top 10 this week in all three key categories.
“I knew I was playing well, and I just felt like if I just went through my process and if I just followed my routine properly then everything was going to be fine,” O’Hair said. “It was just one of those days where I just was very calm and the golf game was there, which was nice.”
Robert Allenby matched O’Hair for low round of the day with the lone bogey-free round to move up 38 spots into a tie for third place at 136 with Ryuji Imada, who had 66. In between them is Gore, the first-round leader, who curled in an eight-footer for birdie at the difficult par-four home hole to finish at even-par 70 and five-under 135.
“It was a roller coaster. I played hard and I didn’t necessarily play great, but I just kept it in front of me, just kept playing hard and tried to focus on every shot,” Gore said. “I know that’s extremely cliché and boring, but that’s kind of what it was. Bogeys are there to be made out there. The golf course is playing tough.”
Allenby made his 32nd cut in a row, tied with Woods for the longest streak on the Tour.“I thought I was ahead of him,” Allenby said, laughing. “Obviously I’m just playing solid. I’ve been hitting the ball well more consistently the last couple years, so that’s kind of helped. I play more tournaments than Tiger, so mine should be a lot better than his.”
O’Hair said he enjoys tough courses, and he’s played enough in his native Texas that Friday’s swirling winds didn’t bother him. But difficult layouts are also no impediment to another of his pursuers – Woods, the No. 1 player in the world. For the second day in a row, Woods began his round by pitching in for a birdie, this time on the par-four 10th hole. He also chipped in from just off the green on the par-four eighth.
“I played decent today. I didn’t hit the ball as well as I’d like to, but I kind of grinded my way along the golf course today and had two chip ins today, which was nice,” Woods said.
The reigning U.S. Open champion, Woods said Bay Hill had the feel of a certain major championship. “It’s a U.S. Open type feel except for the fairways are a lot wider,” he said. “We don’t see fairways this wide in the Open. More than anything I think we haven’t seen the greens repel like this before. It’s been a while. You know, we might get some rain tomorrow and it would change everything. But as of right now, the wind is blowing, and it’s getting a little difficult out there.”
The cut fell at five-over 75 with 74 players qualifying for the weekend. The notable players who missed included former Bay Hill champions Fred Couples, Andrew Magee, Rod Pampling and Robert Gamez, former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, and Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old phenom from Japan.