PALM HARBOR — Sean O'Hair needed a low number and a little luck if he hoped to catch third-round leader Stewart Cink on the final day of the PODS Championship. He got both.
As Cink was sinking in a way almost too painful to watch, O'Hair was quietly putting together a steady round of 2-under 69. His 4-under 280 was two shots better than six golfers, including Cink. O'Hair earned $954,000, his largest payday. It was his first win since the John Deere Classic in 2005, his rookie season.
Perhaps even better news for the 25-year-old former Bradenton Academy student is that he earned his way into his first Masters, which begins April 10.
"When I first won the John Deere Classic, I thought winning would happen all the time," he said. "Obviously, it doesn't happen that way."
O'Hair wasn't sure if he would ever win again. In his first six tournaments this season, his best finish was a tie for 49th. He missed the cut in his past two events.
But a pep talk from his father-in-law and former caddie, Steve Lucas, got him in the right frame of mind.
"When you're working so hard, spending eight-plus hours beating balls, waking up in the morning when it's dark and coming home when it's dark," O'Hair said, "and you're missing cuts, then you start wondering what the heck you're doing. You might as well not work so hard.
"But Steve came down to the Honda (Classic in Palm Beach Gardens), and we had a lot of time to talk. He told me how he believed in me and I was on the right track. He was right. I didn't believe him, but I guess he was right."
O'Hair stayed in contention Sunday with steady play on the front nine and made his move on the back. He birdied No. 11 and sank a 32-foot birdie on the par-3 15th. Meanwhile, Cink, a 13-year veteran, bogeyed 14, giving O'Hair a two-shot lead.
"From there on, I'm trying not to throw up on myself," O'Hair said. "I'm just trying to hang in there."
Something Cink couldn't do. He started the final round with a two-shot lead but squandered it with 3-over 74, his highest round of the tournament. It was the third straight time he played in the last group and didn't win. He has won only once in nine tries when he has had the third-round lead. And his stretch of PGA Tour events without a victory is 87.
After two birdies to start the round, Cink held a four-shot lead and looked in control. But he played the next 16 holes in 5 over, including double bogey at 16 after his tee shot found the water.
"That was the nail in the coffin," said Cink, 34. "It all just happened so quickly. It was like I didn't have any control. I'm a little shell-shocked and a little angry all at the same time."
O'Hair's score is the highest for a winner on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course since it became a PGA Tour event in 2000. Carl Pettersson shot 9-under 275 in 2005.
It was a brutal week, with wet and windy conditions before a picture-perfect finale. Nine players broke par for 72 holes, including Tampa's Ryuji Imada, who shot 3-under 68 to tie for second.
None could match O'Hair. He finished with pars on 16 and 17 and knew he had enough cushion despite bogey on 18.
What O'Hair, who cracked the top 10 just seven times in 58 tournaments in 2006 and '07, also knows is that he can win again.
"You start thinking to yourself, 'What is wrong with me? Why can I not pull it out?,' " he said. " 'Am I too chicken? Do I not have the guts for it?' I don't think that's the case.
"The last time I was home, I watched film of my win at the John Deere Classic in 2005. I was just playing golf. It didn't matter what anybody said about my golf swing. I believed in it, and I had a good year. The last two weeks, that's what I've been working on. Obviously, I'm good enough to win."