Published September 25, 2011
ATLANTA – For much of the day, it all seemed so confusing.
This guy is going to win. No, no, that one can still pull it out. And let's not forget the player who's not even in contention.
In the end, the point scenarios didn't matter a bit. This one was decided on the course, not by a computer.
And what a finish it was.
After staying alive with an astounding shot from the water, Bill Haas defeated Hunter Mahan on the third extra hole of a winner-take-all playoff to capture the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and golf's richest prize early Sunday evening in the dwindling light of East Lake.
"My hands were shaking," Haas said. "This is pretty cool."
He looked out of it on the second playoff hole when his shot from a fairway bunker trickled down the hill alongside the 17th green and wound up half-submerged in the water.
Haas figured his ball was fine until he heard the groans from the grandstands behind the 18th hole.
"I thought it was a nice shot," he said. "I thought, 'That can't be in the water.' I never would have thought that when it was in the air."
His brother, who was on the bag, delivered the bad news.
"Yeah," caddie Jay Haas Jr. said, "I think it is."
Bill Haas didn't throw in the towel. Instead, he put his right foot in the pond and delivered a shot worthy of a massive payoff, water flying upward and the ball spinning toward the cup, settling just 3 feet away.
"It was an all or nothing shot," Haas said. "If I don't pull it off, I'm shaking Hunter's hand."
He saved par and headed back to the par-3 18th for the third time in less than an hour. This time, he played it safe, driving left of the green, chipping to 3 feet and rolling in the biggest putt of his young career. Mahan failed to salvage par after driving into a bunker, the difference between winning and losing nearly $10 million.
"I'm sure my money people, whoever I have helping me out with money, they would suggest that I maybe invest a little," Haas said. "I need to think about it long and hard, but I do need to give myself some sort of reward, some sort of toy or whatever it may be."
He certainly earned it — if nothing else, for the way he persevered. He squandered a three-stroke lead down the stretch and his first shot of the playoff banged off a grandstand right of the 18th green. He chipped to 10 feet and made a downhill putt to keep himself alive. In hindsight, that was just as amazing as the shot out of the water at 17.
"I hit horrendous shots," Haas said. "I just fortunately hit really good recovery shots."
Coming down the stretch, more than a half-dozen players had a shot at the FedEx Cup. Even Webb Simpson, who began the week leading the points but finished 10 shots back in 22nd place.
Then, it all came into focus. When Haas and Mahan claimed spots in the playoff, everyone could put away their calculators and their criticism of the convoluted system that determines a champion.
The winner of the playoff would win it all — even though Haas still wasn't sure he had captured both the tournament AND the FedEx Cup until he did a television interview alongside the 18th green.
"Both trophies were there and there was no other player," he said. "I looked at my wife and she nodded her head, so that was when I realized."
Haas earned a combined $11.44 million, including $10 million for capturing the FedEx Cup. Mahan had to settle for $864,000 as the runner-up and $700,000 for finishing seventh in the FedEx Cup.
"A long, tough day. A lot on the line," Mahan said. "I couldn't have been happier about how I played. I just couldn't make a putt."
Haas won for the first time this year, and the payoff could be more than just a massive bank deposit. Fred Couples makes his final captain's pick on Tuesday for the Presidents Cup, and Haas put on quite a show.
"It definitely put me in the talk," Haas said. "I did what I could do."
Even if Couples wasn't watching, his assistant captain had a great view: Jay Haas, Bill's dad, was in the gallery and raised his arms as his 29-year-old son delivered the riveting conclusion.
"I'm proud of him the way he came back," the father said.
Only a week ago, Bill Haas was poised to make the Presidents Cup on his own until a 42 on the back nine at Cog Hill. He was atop the leaderboard Saturday at East Lake until a bogey-double bogey finish.
"We were eating dinner," Jay Haas said, "and you would've thought he was the worst golfer in all of Atlanta and maybe Georgia. He was way down on himself."
He almost let it get away from him again. Haas had a three-shot lead when he walked off the 15th green, only to make bogey from the trees on the 16th and bogey from the gallery on the 18th for a 2-under 68.
Mahan had to make par on the 232-yard closing hole. He hit a clutch chip — the biggest weakness in his game — and holed a 5-foot par putt for a 71 to join Haas in the high-stakes playoff.
Simpson, the top seed, closed with a 73 that made it possible for anyone who won the Tour Championship — except for Aaron Baddeley — to pass him.
Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, made birdie on the 18th hole for a 69. He needed a three-way tie for second to capture the FedEx Cup, and could have done it had Mahan and Baddeley both made bogey on No. 18 in regulation. Instead, both made par.
Donald wound up in a tie for third with K.J. Choi, who needed birdie on the 18th to get into the playoff. Choi shot 70.
Charles Howell III also needed a birdie to get into the playoff, but came up well left of the green on No. 18 and settled for bogey. Jason Day had a 30-foot birdie putt to join the playoff and gave it a strong run. He missed a meaningless 4-footer coming back and settled for bogey.
Haas was at No. 25 in the FedEx Cup standings, making him the lowest seed to capture golf's biggest prize. He joins a distinguished list of FedEx Cup winners that includes Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk.
No need to beat himself up anymore.
"Anything can happen," Haas said. "Anything did happen."
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