Bill Haas had a sinking feeling when he heard the gallery groan, the first indication that his shot had tumbled down the slope and into the lake. When he saw the ball only half-submerged in water, Haas figured he still had the slightest chance.
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To somehow save par.
Against all odds, to stay alive in his sudden-death playoff with Hunter Mahan at the Tour Championship, the richest playoff in golf history with FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus riding on the outcome.
”It was an all or nothing shot,” Haas said. ”So if I don’t pull it off, I’m shaking Hunter’s hand.”
As he did through the final, frenzied hour at East Lake on Sunday, it worked to near perfection. Haas splashed the ball out onto the green to 3 feet for par, then won the Tour Championship – and the FedEx Cup – on the third extra playoff hole.
In the five-year history of this FedEx Cup, no finish was more compelling.
A handful of players had a shot at the $10 million with an hour left in the tournament until it came down to two – Haas and Mahan, in a sudden-death playoff with such high stakes that the difference between winning and losing was nearly $10 million.
Haas wound up winning a combined $11.44 million, including $10 million for capturing the FedEx Cup. Mahan, who failed to save par from a bunker on the third extra hole, had to settle for $864,000 as the runner-up and $700,000 for finishing seventh in the FedEx Cup.
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.
”I did what I could do,” Haas said.
Even if Couples wasn’t watching, his assistant captain had a great view: Jay Haas, Bill’s dad, was in the gallery at East Lake, and raised his arms as his 29-year-old son delivered the riveting conclusion.
”I’m proud of him the way he came back,” Jay Haas said.
Only a week ago, 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.
And 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.
They returned to the par-3 18th and the pressure was obvious with so much money at stake. Haas hit his shot well right, into the gallery for the third straight time, then hit a tough chip to 10 feet. Mahan went in the bunker and blasted out to 6 feet. Haas appeared to be down to his last shot, but holed the par putt to stay alive.
What followed was an amazing turnaround.
From the right bunker, his approach to the 17th on the second playoff hole tumbled down the hill and barely into the lake, the top half of the ball still showing. Mahan hit a pitching wedge to 15 feet, and must have thought the $11.44 million was his.
Mahan was in that same lake on Thursday when he removed his socks and shoes and played back to the fairway, so when he saw what Haas had done, he knew it wasn’t over. He just didn’t think – no one did, really – that Haas could hit such a spectacular shot.
”I thought I had won on the second playoff hole, and then he hits it out of the water to 2 feet,” Mahan said. ”So it seemed like he was destined to win this week.”
Water splashed upward, and the ball settled 3 feet away. Mahan’s birdie putt just missed on the high side of the cup.
Back to the 18th for the third time in less than an hour, Haas avoided the gallery this time and went left of the green. Mahan again found the bunker, only this time he blasted out some 15 feet by the hole and missed. Haas chipped to 3 feet and holed it for the biggest putt of his young career.
He calmly pumped his fist toward the green and let out a huge sigh.
”I’m very fortunate,” Haas said. ”This is pretty unbelievable.”
Haas was at No. 25 in the FedEx Cup, making him the lowest seed to capture golf’s biggest prize. He joins a distinguished list of FedEx Cup winners that includes Tiger Woods (twice), Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk.
This FedEx Cup took more math skills than usual, yet it turned out to be the most compelling.
In the final hour of the Tour Championship, eight players were still in the mix for the $10 million prize.
Webb Simpson, the top seed, closed with a 73 and finished alone in 22nd, making 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. 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 made bogey. Jason Day had a 30-foot birdie putt to join the playoff and gave it strong run. He missed a meaningless 4-footer coming back and made bogey.
It came down to Haas and Mahan, and an ending no one imagined. Haas hit two balls into the gallery, another into the lake, and still managed to win two trophies.