Published July 01, 2013
BETHESDA, Md. – Bill Haas keeps winning the right tournaments to position himself on the periphery of the elite in golf.
His three-shot victory Sunday in the AT&T National was his fourth straight season with at least one PGA Tour title, joining a short list with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. Some of that is good timing, though to suggest it's merely a coincidence would be to ignore an abundance of natural talent.
The trick is getting to the next level, and Haas knows the way.
"Work a little harder," he said. "This year I think I put in a little bit more work than I have in the previous years — easy to say now that it's paying off. But all the best players, they're working hard. And the best players ... there is a level, and I'd love to be a part of that. But the way you guys and the golf world ranks us, it's by the majors. And I have not had that much success in the majors."
Indeed, Haas has never had a top 10 in a major.
For now, he keeps winning on major golf courses. Faced with a rugged test at Congressional, which has hosted four major championships, Haas pulled away from a crowd of contenders with three straight birdies, two good pars and one good hop out of the rough by the 14th green that turned potential bogey into birdie.
He wound up with a 5-under 66 and a three-shot win over Robert Castro, who made Haas work hard in the sweltering heat Sunday.
Haas thought about a player such as Jason Day, who has only one win in his sixth year on the PGA Tour, but is looked upon now as a contender at the majors because that's what the Australian has done. Day has finished two shots behind in the Masters twice, and he was runner-up by two shots at the U.S. Open at Merion this year.
"I would like to be part of that," Haas said. "But honestly, I would just like to work hard, see the results, and if the next level comes, then I welcome it."
His last three wins have come at Congressional, Riviera last year and East Lake in 2011, when he won the Tour Championship and captured the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. His next big test will be Muirfield for the British Open.
Haas, who finished at 12-under 272, still hasn't won a tournament with Tiger Woods in the field. Sunday was close. Woods at least was on the property, waiting on the 18th green to give Haas the silver trophy of the U.S. Capitol that the 31-year-old struggled to hoist over his head in the stifling conditions.
For a tournament lacking star power — Woods withdrew with an elbow injury and Rose withdrew from fatigue after winning the U.S. Open — Haas at least kept up the pedigree of the AT&T National winners. In the seven-year history of the tournament, the lowest-ranked player to win was Rose, who was at No. 35 when he won at Aronimink in 2010. Haas was at No. 29. The other winners were K.J. Choi, Anthony Kim, Nick Watney and Woods twice.
"This golf course and even Aronimink, too, they're ball-striker golf courses," Woods said. "You have to hit your ball well. You look at our list of champions, they've all been pretty good ball-strikers. You just can't fake it around this golf course. It's too big and too demanding."
Haas played big and he answered every challenge, including his own demons.
He had enough scars this year, such as Riviera and the Memorial, that he never got too excited even when he began to pull away. He knew there was trouble around every corner at Congressional, and he only had to look back one day to realize that. His scorecard on Saturday was a mess — nine birdies but only five pars, along with a triple bogey on the 11th hole, the toughest on the golf course.
He rolled in birdie putts from about the 10-foot range on the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to build a two-shot lead, and then stepped to the 11th tee looking for redemption, or at least a par. What gave him as much satisfaction as any birdie was a tee shot in the fairway, a 5-iron to the green and two putts.
"I told myself, 'Great par, but it's not over yet,'" Haas said. "You can't breathe a sigh of relief yet. You've got to keep hitting good shots. I was able to hit a few nice ones coming in."
He added a pair of birdies and Castro, who matched him shot-for-shot for much of the day, couldn't stay with him. Castro, part of a four-way tie for the lead going into the final round, closed with a 69 for his best finish on tour.
"He didn't make any mistakes, and the birdies on 9 and 10 were big," Castro said after his 69.
The other leaders fell away. Andres Romero had a double bogey on the fourth hole and shot 75. James Driscoll didn't make a birdie in his round of 74.
Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old from Texas who needs a win to become a PGA Tour member and be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs, started his day by holing out from a fairway bunker for eagle and chipping in for birdie to tie for the lead. He dropped a shot at No. 11 — the hardest hole at Congressional — about the time Haas was on his critical run of birdies. Spieth had a 69 and finished sixth, pushing his earnings for the year over $1.1 million.
D.H. Lee made nine birdies to match a tournament-best 64 and tied for third with Jason Kokrak, who briefly shared the lead on the front nine and had a 69. Stewart Cink closed with a 67 and finished alone in fifth, his best finish on the PGA Tour in stroke play since he won the British Open four years ago at Turnberry.
Haas made the long walk across a makeshift bridge and under the grandstands to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, high-fiving kids along the railing and raising his cap to thousands of fans who cheered as they saw him coming. His win was even sweeter when he compared it with all the times he failed.
"As many times as I've choked and hit bad shots and I've been nervous and it hasn't worked out — I was feeling all those things today — and to hit good, quality golf shots down the stretch is such a good feeling," Haas said. "I wish I could explain it. It's amazing."