Tiger's tip helps O'Hair to lead at East Lake

September, 24, 2009

ATLANTA -- Tiger Woods may have lost the Tour Championship -- heck, maybe the whole FedEx Cup -- on Wednesday afternoon.

One day prior to the opening day here at East Lake Golf Club, the current points leader was taking part in a practice round with Sean O'Hair when he noticed something amiss with his buddy's putting stroke. And while he may be the most competitive dude on the planet, Woods didn't want to achieve any success at the expense of O'Hair. So he did what he says any friend would do: He gave him a tip.

"It's very simple; you always help your friends," Woods said after firing a first-round 3-under 67. "Sean is a friend of mine, and like all my friends, you always try to make their life better somehow. That's the whole idea of having friends in your life. Sean has been struggling a little bit on the greens this year, and I thought I could offer a little bit of help and insight to how he could change that."

If this golf thing doesn't work out, Tiger may have a future as the next Hank Haney.

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That's because O'Hair bested Woods by a stroke on Thursday, climbing into the top spot on the leaderboard thanks to -- you guessed it -- a hot putter. The three-time PGA Tour champion needed 28 putts (T-5 in the field) and boasted a 1.571 putting average (best in the field) that included a 55-footer for birdie on the fourth hole and one from 18 feet on No. 14.

All of which leads to one burning question: What was this magical putting tip?

When queried by reporters after his round, O'Hair simply smiled and said, "I think it's a little too complicated for you guys."

Try us.

"He's just kind of helping me out a little bit with my backswing on the stroke," O'Hair confided. "I tend to deloft the putter and take it a little too square going back, so he just was kind of trying to get me to almost add loft to the putter so I can release it through. Basically, if you take it straight back and you deloft it, you've got to hang onto it going through or the ball is going to go dead left.

"I was taught as a kid hands forward, deloft, and then hold it going through. Well, that's fine when you have nerves of steel and you don't care. But when you're out here playing for a living and there's a lot more nerves out there, you need kind of something that's going to work on a daily basis."

For the season, O'Hair ranks 159th on the PGA Tour in putts per round and 116th in putting average. That includes a recent period during which he couldn't make a thing. Entering the Deutsche Bank Championship, he had recorded only 12 birdies in his past 10 competitive rounds, including four days without a red figure. That led to no finishes of better than T-65 in his previous five starts, dating back to early July.

O'Hair has enjoyed some rejuvenation on the greens ever since. At TPC Boston, he carded an eagle and 20 birdies in four rounds and followed with a similar 21-birdie performance at Cog Hill the next week.

Buoyed by a tip from one of the game's best rock-rollers, he's feeling more confident than ever. Then again, O'Hair isn't exactly following Woods' advice word-for-word.

"I'm not even close to doing exactly what he's told me to do," O'Hair admitted. "I believe in what he said. I truly believe in what he said, and I think it's the key for me to kind of take my putting to another level, because let's face it, that's kind of what's held me back for a long time."

Even though he's only using Tiger's tip as a guideline, O'Hair doesn't take for granted the assistance of the game's top player.

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"As far as getting that kind of advice from somebody, getting advice like that from good players is obviously awesome, but getting it from basically the greatest of all time is pretty cool," he said. "You know, the thing that impresses me more, we all know how good of a player he is and how great of a player he is, but I think the thing that impresses me more is the quality of guy he is. I mean, I'm his competition, and for him to help me out like he did was very classy, I thought."

Yep, it's nice to have friends in high places and for Sean O'Hair, it's even nicer to have a friend in the highest place. Of course, that doesn't mean Tiger Woods isn't concerned that he helped his buddy a little too much.

When asked about helping O'Hair inch past him on the leaderboard, Woods smiled and said, "I'm going to go chew him out right now."

If his tip leads to an O'Hair victory on Sunday, Tiger may not be smiling anymore.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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