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Winning Canadian Open restores confidence to Sean O'Hair's golf game

VANCOUVER - It was a feeling Sean O'Hair had forgotten and secretly feared he might have lost forever.

Winning the RBC Canadian Open in a playoff Sunday was like a catharsis for O'Hair. It helped wash away some of the doubt that had soiled his confidence and restored his faith in himself.

"I really appreciate what today was all about,'' O'Hair said after his victory in the US$5.2-million tournament on the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club ended a two-year championship drought on the PGA Tour.

"I appreciated being out there, being in the hunt. I was soaking things up a little bit more. The struggle and to be fighting had really kind of been lost. To be sitting here, I just really appreciate this win.''

O'Hair scrambled from three shots off the pace to fire a 2-under 68 to finish at 4 under and force a playoff with fellow American Kris Blanks.

On the first playoff hole O'Hair nervously watched Blanks miss a short putt for bogey. As the ball slowly rolled wide of the hole, O'Hair admitted he thought "I'm going to just puke.''

"I'm sorry he missed the putt,'' said O'Hair, who collected $939,000 for the win. "It was just overwhelming.''

While O'Hair celebrated, Canadian Adam Hadwin experienced a roller-coaster ride.

The 23 year old from Abbostford, B.C., started the day one shot behind the leader. He almost shot himself out of the tournament on the front nine, then battled back into contention.

His 72 left him 2 under for the tournament and tied for fourth with Australia's Geoff Ogilvy. Not only did Hadwin collect a cheque for $228,800, he also earned a spot in next week's PGA event in West Virginia.

"It's was a very exciting time,'' said Hadwin, who was trying to become the first Canadian in 57 years to win Canada's national championship. "Being in the final group and playing for a country was pretty exciting.

"I wish I had been able to start off a little better. I brought it back. It was exciting on the back and I had a chance on the last couple of holes.''

Blanks, who led after the first round, started at 3 under Sunday. He made a 10-foot putt on the 18th to force the playoff, then missed a five-footer to let the win slip away.

"I'm still a little pissed right now,'' said Blanks, who won $561,000.

"I made some good putts to stay tied for the lead and get in the playoffs. This definitely makes the whole rest of the year a lot easier.''

Blanks came into the tournament having missed 11 of 22 cuts. His earnings this year were $448,617.

The money O'Hair won almost tripled the $327,731 he had made this year. Coming into the tournament he had struggled, making just seven of 17 cuts.

O'Hair broke on to the scene in 2005, winning the John Deere Classic in his first year on the PGA Tour, while also making headlines when his relationship with his estranged father, already profiled on a 2002 episode of "60 Minutes," became highly publicized.

O'Hair's father Marc ran his life with military precision, getting him up early to run and sometimes having him run a mile after a round for every stroke he was over par. The two have been out of contact for years.

O'Hair went on to win the PODS Championship in 2008 and the Quail Hollow Championship in 2009, but had struggled since then.

"Sometimes when you are playing well, you take that good play for granted,'' said the soft-spoken resident of West Chester, Pa. "It's not easy out here. There are a lot of good players. To win out here and play well is difficult.

"I'm not the type of player that is going to win 10 times in a year. I just think I've learned to appreciate being where I am right now.''

After Wednesday's Pro-Am event, O'Hair's confidence was left in shreds.

"It's a very intimidating golf course and I played horrific,'' he said. "It was the worst point of the whole year. I didn't know how I was gong to play this week.''

To get ready for Thursday, O'Hair read some passages from the Bible to settle his nerves. On the course, the 29 year old felt his swing coming back.

"The game has been there, but mentally I was a lot better,'' he said. "I've been impatient. I've been wanting to play out of this slump so bad.

"This week I did a better job. I still need to work on it, but I did a better job to stay out of my own way and let the chips fall where they may.''

Hadwin, who wore a bright red shirt over sparkling white pants, began the day one shot back of the leader but his game began to wobble. He stumbled with a bogey on the first hole, then suffered a disastrous double-bogey on the par-3 No. 8 to fall five strokes off.

Hadwin regrouped on the back nine, carding three straight birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 14. He pumped his fist after the last one, bringing a roar from the large gallery following him on a warm, sun-soaked afternoon.

Only five Canadians have won the Canadian Open, the third oldest championship in golf. The last was Pat Fletcher in 1954 when the tournament was held at Point Grey in Vancouver.

Mike Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., was the last Canadian to make a serious challenge for the title, losing in a playoff to Vijay Singh in 2004.

Weir, a former Masters champion, was forced to withdraw from the tournament Friday with a sore elbow.

Of the 17 Canadians who started in the field of 156, 12 didn't make Friday's cut.

The beauty of the 7,010-yard, tree-lined course was lost on some of the golfers this week. Instead of taking in some of the breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean, they were more concerned with the tall, thick rough which sucked up shots that landed just a few feet off the fairways.

"They are very close to having it set up well,'' said Luke Donald, the world's No. 1-ranked player, who shot 3 under Sunday to finish in a tie for 17th at plus-2. "The rough is just a little bit too penal.

"If they had a secondary cut (on the grass) where if you are just a little off you are not going to get penalized quite so much. Maybe even just turn a couple of the (par) 4s into 5s. Guys would make a few more birdies out there."

This field in this year's Canadian Open included six of the top-30 in the tour's FedExCup standings.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel finished in a tie for ninth, along with crowd favourite John Daly. They both earned US$140,000.

Ernie Els joined Donald and veteran Lee Janzen at 17th, collecting US$78,000.

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