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Sean O'Hair has an edge, and a challenge, at Bay Hill

He leads Tiger Woods by five shots, but he will have to play with the world's No. 1 player.

March 29, 2009|Josh Robbins

ORLANDO, FLA. — Sean O'Hair has conquered strong winds, unforgiving greens and thick rough through the first three rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But, today, he'll face perhaps his most difficult test yet: 18 holes of golf alongside defending champion Tiger Woods.

On a gusty Saturday when only eight players managed to shoot par or better, O'Hair posted a one-over-par 71 to retain a five-shot lead over Woods. The pair will be grouped with Zach Johnson during today's final round, which O'Hair knows can be treacherous simply because of Woods' presence.

"Obviously, if you're in the last group of a golf tournament on the final day, you're doing something right," said O'Hair, who is at seven-under 203.

"I just don't think people stay in their own little world. I think they tend to get too focused on what he's doing and almost watch him. I think some people try and beat him or try and play him, when in reality you're not playing Tiger Woods, you're playing the golf course."

Woods kept his chances alive with a 71. He is known as the sport's best final-round closer, but he'll have to equal the best comeback of his PGA Tour career to win his sixth title at Bay Hill. The only other time he has overcome a 54-hole deficit on the PGA Tour as large as five strokes came in 2000, when he surged past Mark Brooks and Matt Gogel at Pebble Beach.

"We'll see what happens when we get out here, what kind of conditions we're going to have, whether we're able to shoot low scores or not, or we're going to have to play like we have been the last three days," Woods said.

As players left the golf course Saturday, they didn't know quite what to expect from Bay Hill during the final round. The threat of overnight and early-morning rain prompted PGA Tour officials to group all players into threesomes for today.

Saturday brought high temperatures that hardened the greens and winds that consistently blew out of the south at 15 to 20 mph, with gusts reaching 33 mph.

O'Hair managed the conditions as well as anyone through the first 13 holes by posting four birdies and two bogeys. After his birdie on the fifth hole, he led Woods by eight shots. But O'Hair closed out his round with three bogeys on the final four holes.

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jrobbins@orlandosentinel.com.

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