September 25, 2011
Nine months. Dozens of golf tournaments. Hundreds of players. Hundreds of thousands of strokes. And it all came down to this: one sudden-death playoff, $11.44 million on the line.
The FedEx Cup statistics were mind-numbing, the scenarios as absurd as election predictions after ten votes. At various times throughout the weekend at the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, at least a third of the field had a reasonable shot at winning golf's biggest prize: the $10 million FedEx Cup, as well as the $1.44 million for the Tour Championship itself. But by the end of regulation play on Sunday, 28 guys had played themselves out of contention, and two found themselves with one hand on both prizes.
Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas stood at the tee on 18 at East Lake in the late afternoon Georgia sunlight having taken two very different routes there. Haas played steady golf right until his finishing holes, while Mahan recovered from a stumble to pull off perhaps the most amazing chip of his life, a beauty from behind the 18th hole that stopped within a handful of feet from the cup.
The sudden-death playoff was gut-wrenching, clutch shot following clutch shot. After Haas managed to recover from a shot that literally bounced off the grandstands around 18 and parred the hole with a nerve-wracking eight-footer, Mahan rolled in a straight but insanely tense four-footer to extend the playoff to a second hole.
The second playoff hole was the 17th, a scarily thin par 4 bracketed by bunkers and tents on one side and water on the other. Haas found the bunker on his tee shot, while Mahan's shot split the middle of the fairway. But Haas's approach shot hit the green and kept rolling, right on over the edge of the green and onto the muddy flats of East Lake. Mahan followed with a dart to the center of the green, and that appeared to be over.
But no, Haas made one of the most amazing recovery shots you'll ever see, backspinning the ball to within five feet of the hole and throwing the pressure again onto Mahan's shoulders:
Mahan came within a hairsbreadth of making a Cup-winning putt, but both had to settle for par ... and then it was back to 18.
This time, Haas didn't bounce his shot off a spectator or a grandstand; he left it right on the fringe. Mahan again ended up in the sand, but pitched to within 15 feet of the hole. Haas followed by saddling up his belly putter and running his putt right along the fringe of the green, stopping it four feet from the hole. Mahan missed his par putt, and then it was down to Haas.
Four feet. One putt. $11.44 million. And he rolled it true.
This is a huge win for Haas, and not just because of the money involved. No, he now is almost certainly on the Presidents Cup team as a captain's pick, and he'll have more exemptions into golf's finest tournaments than he can stuff into the huge bowl of the FedEx Cup.
Bill Haas won a thriller. Sure, he wasn't a known commodity, but for four weeks, particularly this weekend, he was the very best that golf had to offer.