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Sean O'Hair steals the spotlight at Bay Hill

He shoots a 65 and lead by three. Tiger Woods is five back after a 69.

March 28, 2009|Josh Robbbins

ORLANDO, FLA. — Tiger Woods made two nice chip-ins for birdie. Padraig Harrington showed glimpses of the game that enabled him to win the last two majors. And Vaughn Taylor and Webb Simpson each had a hole in one.

But the stars of Friday's second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational were Sean O'Hair and the course at Bay Hill. On a day when most golfers had problems with fast greens, unforgiving rough and 10- to 20-mph winds, O'Hair shot a five-under-par 65, good for an eight-under total and a three-shot lead over Jason Gore.

"I've always seemed to feel more comfortable on tougher golf courses where you don't have to feel like you've got to shoot 20 under par to win the golf tournament," O'Hair said. "I've always been a good wind player, just because I'm from West Texas."

As players started finishing their rounds around noon, many said they didn't expect anyone to put up a low score. They didn't count on O'Hair, a 26-year-old who has two PGA Tour wins and has reworked his swing over the last year.

The field on Friday combined to average 72.068 on the par-70 track.

"It's just a very strategic golf course right now and you just have to take your lumps and hopefully lump it back when you get your chance," said Gore, who shot an even-par 70 and sits in second place at five under. Robert Allenby and Ryuji Imada are tied for third, at 4 under.

Woods was one of only 20 golfers in the 119-player field to break par.

Playing in the morning in front of a smaller, less vocal crowd than the one that watched him Thursday, Woods shot a 69 and is five shots behind O'Hair.

The world's top-ranked player continued to have problems with his ball-striking, reaching only nine of 18 greens in regulation. But once again, he navigated out of trouble with his short game. He started his day on No. 10 and birdied that hole by chipping in from the fringe, 19 feet from the pin. He also chipped in from 40 feet for birdie at No. 8, holing out from the intermediate rough.

"It's a U.S. Open-type feel" except for the fairways are wider, he said. "More than anything, I think we haven't seen the greens repel like this before."

Woods' Thursday and Friday playing partners, Harrington and Mark Wilson, are among seven golfers tied at two under.

Harrington shot a 68 on Friday and made the cut at Bay Hill for the first time in three attempts. He will use the weekend as an opportunity to prepare for the Masters, where he could win his third consecutive major. "I haven't putted very well for the two days, so that needs to be a bit better," he said.

The cut came at five over, the highest on the PGA Tour this year by two strokes and a sign of just how tough Bay Hill has been playing.

The course wouldn't have seemed that difficult for those watching only O'Hair. He hit 11 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 24 putts.

O'Hair lives Pennsylvania now, but when he was a kid, he played 10 times at Bay Hill. He tied for third at last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Familiarity with the course helped once again Friday.

"I think the rough is very penal, but if you're in the fairway all day, you don't have to worry about it," O'Hair said.

That sounded easy enough. But for one day at least, he was one of the few who didn't have many problems.

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jrobbins@orlandosentinel.com

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