Monday, February 20, 2012


LOS ANGELES -- Bill Haas knows anything is possible from even the most dire positions. Remember, this is the guy who only five months ago saved par with his ball partially submerged in a lake and won the FedExCup.
But not even Haas could have imagined such a stunning conclusion Sunday at Riviera.
In thick rough behind the 10th green, the second hole of a three-man playoff with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Haas smartly played away from the flag with hopes of making par and going on to the next hole.
He wound up holing a 45-foot birdie putt across the green to win the Northern Trust Open.
"A part of me was saying, 'I've done this once, let's do it again,'" Haas said. "Another part of me was saying, 'Don't screw this up.'"
Mickelson and Bradley worked their own heroics just to get into the play-off.
Haas, who closed with a two-under 69, was on the practice range at seven-under 277 as he warmed up for a play-off only he thought might happen. He was trying to convince himself that Mickelson or Bradley -- maybe both -- would make birdie on the 18th hole, even though it had yielded only six birdies all day.
With tournament executive director Jerry West -- "Mr. Clutch" from his days with the Los Angeles Lakers -- looking on, Mickelson rammed in a birdie putt from just outside 25 feet, pointing his putter and slamming his fist as the gallery packed into the hill below the stately clubhouse let out a cheer that could be heard down Sunset Boulevard.
Mickelson bumped fists with Bradley and told his protege, "Join me."
That he did. Bradley's birdie putt from just outside 12 feet took one last, slow turn at the cup and disappeared, setting off another enormous cheer. No one had to tell Haas what was happening.
"You heard the cheers," he said.
They started the play-off on the 18th, and Bradley had the best look at birdie with a 15-footer from just off the back of the green that touched the right side of the cup.
It was decided on the 312-yard 10th hole, regarded as the best short par 4 in America, certainly among the most interesting holes in all of golf. It can be reached with a drive, but it's all about position -- and none were in a particularly good spot.
Haas went long into thick rough, with enough of the back bunker in his way that he smartly played out to the right and left himself a long birdie putt that at least would assure him par.
Mickelson and Bradley each came up short, a horrible angle. Mickelson's flop shot landed near the hole and rolled into the back bunker. Bradley was in the bunker, and did well to blast out to 15 feet, just through the green.
Haas ended the suspense with his putt.
"I never expected to make a 40-footer, especially in that situation," Haas said. "A little luck was involved. I guess it was meant to be."
Bradley, who closed with a 71, missed his birdie putt after Mickelson, who also had a 71, failed to hole his bunker shot.
"I didn't think he was going to make that one," Bradley said. "I should have known, though, because he's a great putter and a great player."
Mickelson, who rallied from six shots behind with a 64 to win last week at Pebble Beach, was trying to become the first player since Tiger Woods in August 2009 to win back-to-back on the US PGA Tour.
"Bill hit a tremendous putt," Mickelson said. "We're thinking it's a very difficult 3. It's a defensive hole. You're just trying to make 4, believe it or not."
Haas went one better with his putt across the green.
"That's going to do it," Mickelson said.
Mickelson missed three straight putts from just inside 10 feet on the back nine -- two for par, one for birdie -- but atoned for it with his birdie on the 18th, the longest putt he made all day.
"I kept fighting, and I was giving away shots and was trying to let it go and move on and see if I could capture one, and I finally got one to go on 18," Mickelson said. "It felt great."
The feeling only lasted two holes.
Haas captured his fourth career US PGA Tour title and moved to No. 12 in the world.
"To beat guys of that calibre is amazing, something I will never forget," Haas said.
Mickelson seized control early with the best shot he hit all week. With pin tucked in the back right corner on a new green at the fifth hole -- a deep swale behind it and to the right -- Mickelson hooked a 9-iron that started out toward the gallery and wound up 4 feet away for birdie.
That put him at 9 under, two shots clear of Haas, who had birdied the par-3 sixth two groups ahead. Jonathan Byrd, who had been tied for the lead, made double bogey on No. 5 with a hooked tee shot into the hay.
All it took was a pair of mistakes by Mickelson to turn the back nine into a shootout, with a half-dozen players in the mix.
He missed the dual fairway on the eighth and couldn't reach the green, chipped 6 feet by the hole and missed the par putt. Then, he failed to clear the fairway bunker on No. 9 and had no chance of getting home. His wedge was 20 feet short, leading to another bogey.
The game was on.
Haas started the back nine with a birdie to take the lead, only to give it back with consecutive bogeys when he came up short on the 12th and missed the fairway left on the 13th. Bradley and Mickelson each made birdie on the 11th to reclaim a share of the lead, then took turns falling out of the lead -- Bradley missed the green to the left on No. 13 for bogey, Mickelson with a three-putt from 50 feet on No. 14.
Mickelson three-putted again from 70 feet on the 15th, but Bradley also missed a 7-foot par putt on the same hole.
Four players had at least a share of the lead throughout the final round. Dustin Johnson was not among them, though he stayed in the hunt until the end. Needing a birdie to match Haas, he leaked his approach to the 18th and then bladed his chip across the green. He had to scramble for bogey and a 71, putting him in a tie for fourth.
Garcia never had a chance to win, though the Spaniard sure made it interesting.
He hit 3-wood to 10 feet for eagle on No. 11, holed a 4-iron from 207 for eagle on No. 15 and birdied the 18th for a 30 on his opening nine. When he holed a birdie putt across the third green, he was 8 under for the day through 11 holes, and only three shots behind.
His momentum ended with a bogey on the par-3 fourth, and he had to settle for a 64, the best round of the tournament.
Winning never entered his mind.
"Everything had to be absolutely perfect for me," Garcia said. "I obviously couldn't make any bogeys. It's not that easy."
Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, struggled after the opening round and closed with a 78.
The par-5 1st hole was the easiest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.276.
About the winner
• Haas made his fifth start of the season this week. His best finish this year was a T4 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
• Haas wins his fourth event in his 195th start on Tour. His father, Jay, won his fourth tournament in his 180th start.
• The elder Haas then won his fifth event on TOUR the following week in his 181st start. Jay Haas' best finish in 25 career starts at the Northern Trust Open is T3 in 1992.
• Haas' first over-par round of this season came on Thursday with a first-round 72. This season Haas has one over-par round, four even-par rounds and 15 under-par rounds.
• Haas' four career wins are the second most by players currently in their 20s. Here's the list of players with three or more wins: Dustin Johnson (5), Haas (4), Sean O'Hair (4), Camilo Villegas (3), Anthony Kim (3) and Hunter Mahan (3).
• Sunday was Haas' first top 10 in seven starts at the Northern Trust Open. His previous best finish was T12 last year. Haas missed the cut at Riviera CC in 2009 and 2010.
• Haas was 2-under on the par-3s, 1-under on the par-4s and 4-under on the par-5s in the first round rounds this week. In the playoff he birdied the par-4 10th hole.
• Haas was T1 in Total Putts this week with 103. He tied with Keegan Bradley and Cameron Tringale.





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