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Published: Friday, 6/1/2007

O'Hair is winning by the book

DUBLIN, Ohio - Early in the 2005 season, Sean O'Hair was a forlorn PGA Tour rookie who was having considerable trouble keeping the golf ball on Planet Earth.

Left rough, right woods, greenside bunkers he had that part down pat. But that stuff doesn't lead to many low scores.

So, the night before his 18th tour start, the John Deere Classic, a shaken and confused O'Hair walked from his hotel to a nearby mall, went into a bookstore, and made two purchases. He went back to the hotel, read until his eyes were blurry, then headed to the practice range the next morning to try out the tips he'd read.

The books were about the golf swing. They were written by Jack Nicklaus, not a bad guy from whom to steal an idea or two.

You may know, or at least may have guessed, the rest of the story. O'Hair won the John Deere Classic. And earned a berth in the following week's British Open. And posted a top-20 finish in his first major championship. And ended up as PGA Tour rookie of the year after finishing 18th on the final money list with $2.5 million. And went from No. 1,115 in the world rankings at the start of the season to No. 53 at year's end.

So are you grabbing your car keys, heading for the nearest Barnes & Noble?

Currently, O'Hair is one of the hottest players in the game. Sure, all you probably remember is his 17th-hole meltdown in the final round of the Players Championship, but he has finished in the top 20 in five of his last six tournaments and has broken par in 21 of his last 27 rounds.

The man who once read Jack Nicklaus books to straighten out his wayward game came to Jack's tournament yesterday and was a birdie or two away from torching poor Muirfield Village. He was 8-under after 13 holes, then cooled off, relatively speaking, for a round of 7-under 65 and a share of the lead in the Memorial Tournament.

He showed no aftereffects from his quadruple-bogey 7 on the 17th hole of the Players while hard on the heels of eventual winner Phil Mickelson. Well, no ill effects other than he bogeyed No. 17 yesterday, too. It was his only bogey of the day. In fact, it was the only bogey for the threesome of O'Hair, Ted Purdy and Charles Howell III.

"I apologized to those guys because that would have been pretty cool," he said. "No bogeys in the group. I've never heard of that before in my life."

O'Hair said the Players was "a great experience" and that No. 17, the famous island hole at the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, would have bothered him only if he had choked.

"I was going right for the pin and I hit it right over the pin," he said. "I felt like I hit the shot the way I wanted to and I was shocked that it went in the water. I hit the shot the way I wanted to hit it."

If not for pesky media types, he would have already forgotten about it.

Because, you see, he once read a book by Jack Nicklaus.

"I mean, Nicklaus never let a shot bother him," O'Hair said. "Whether he hit a bad shot or a good shot, he just went and hit the next one. Good players don't let bad holes bother them."

The O'Hair-Nicklaus relationship seems to be a one-way affair, thus far, with Jack doing all the giving.

O'Hair wouldn't mind the same type of exchange come Sunday's trophy presentation.

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