On Golden Pond

It’s official. Bill “Swamp Thing” Haas saved the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Not only did Haas make himself $11.4 million in one day – somewhere on a baseball diamond, Alex Rodriguez felt a stabbing pain of jealousy – he also gave all of us who routinely knock golf balls into water hazards a patron saint.

Saint Bill, patron saint of lost causes in the water. (I’m not sure if there’s a patron saint for $11.4 million paydays, but give Tim Finchem time. He may come up with a sponsor.)

While you were watching the NFL on Sunday, Haas and Hunter Mahan engaged in mano-a-mano combat for the whole enchilada. For a cash grab, it was pretty good golf drama: sudden-death playoff, East Lake, Tour Championship, more than $10 mil on the line.

And then Haas’ second shot on the 17th hole – the second playoff hole – trickled off the green and into the water hazard. Mahan was safely on in two. Haas was toast. After all, he was supposed to play East Lake; not be in East Lake.

Except: Haas kept his head down, played his half-submerged water ball like a bunker shot, popped it out of the liquid grave, onto the green. For good measure, he somehow got spin on it, and sucked it back to three feet for an easy par save, matching Mahan’s par. To complete his superhero feat, Haas emerged from the lake with his pink shirt completely mud-free.

Ta-da!

The FedEx Cup playoffs, four years old and searching for an identity, finally found one. Even the 49th-ranked player in the world was compelled to tweet: “Great finish to the season today. Fun to watch Bill and Hunter, two good friends and players, go at it.”

Yes, even Tiger Woods took time to open his laptop and remark on the drama. That’s saying something, too, considering Tiger’s Oakland Raiders were in the process of a signature win over the New York Jets while Haas executed his marshy miracle. There’s Finchem’s promo slogan for next fall: “The FedEx Cup Playoffs … We’re Pretty Sure Tiger Watched Some of It!”

If neither Haas nor Mahan stops you in your tracks, don’t feel bad. Each guy is essentially the same player – Mahan entered the week ranked 23rd in the world with three wins in 232 starts; Haas entered the week ranked 45th in the world with two wins in 189 starts. Neither player has a major.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Haas is best known for his last name, part of the Haas golfing dynasty that never has to pay for a beer on the 19th hole at Wake Forest. Mahan is best known for his glam-rock shades, shaggy hair and scruff and former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader wife. Don’t be fooled, though. For all his attempts to look like Eddie Vedder on the golf course, he’s hardly a rock-and-roll rebel. Mahan’s tweets are heavy on the exclamation points and often feature descriptions of rather mundane domestic travails with his bride. “Spent the off weekend at Home Depot!”

He didn’t really tweet that, but he might as well have.

In many ways, Bill Haas as FedEx Cup champion and Tour Championship champion is a perfect coda for the 2011 season. As Finchem noted, efforting to hide his disappointment in the Haas awards ceremony, the PGA Tour saw 25 first-time winners this year. “First-time winners” is also known in TV ratings circles as “no-name winners.” In a year where Tiger disappeared and Phil won only once and Ernie got old and young Rickie Fowler never reached the podium and Rory McIlroy played most of his golf in Europe and steady-eddie, super-nice guy, ratings-killer Luke Donald became the No. 1 player in the world, it’s neatly symbolic that Bill Haas, soft-spoken, low-wattage, toting a long putter and prematurely bald, is the season’s big kahuna.

Fairly amusing to think how Haas, hardly sporting the look of a party animal, might spend $11.4 million – Potato chips? iTunes gift cards for adult contemporary music? Socks?

A Mahan win would at least have done one fun thing. It would have allowed us to revisit the 2011 season’s shining moment of comedy, the YouTube sensation “Golf Boyz/Oh Oh Oh” video, launched in June and now up to 2.59 million hits. Mahan’s fur vest and bare chest in the video was hilariously cheesy, and if he’d have won at East Lake, a revisit of the video would have been in order.

As it is, none of the four Golf Boyz – Mahan, Fowler, Bubba Watson or Ben Crane – has won since the video launched. Might we end the season thinking the “Curse of the Golf Boyz” video could take on a PGA Tour “Curse of the Bambino”-like haunt?

Hey, anything to spice things up around here.

Scorecard of the week

Europe 15, United States 13 – Solheim Cup, final score, Killeen Castle, Dunsany, Ireland.

Considering half of the world’s top-20 ranked women’s players are exempt from the Solheim Cup – and five of the world’s top seven, more pointedly – the B-list Euros and Yanks always put on one heck of a show.

The Solheim Cup’s dirty little not-so secret is that Europe and America don’t feature the best women’s players in the world. The continent of Asia does, but isn’t included in the Euro-Yank face-paint fest. That means Yani Tseng, Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazoto and the rest of the crew spent Sunday firing pencils at ceilings. The best the American and Euro ladies could do was offer us a show at least, and thank heavens they responded.

The Suzann Pettersen-Michelle Wie match alone was worth it to see Pettersen, the Ivan Drago of the ladies’ game, KO the Hawaiian on the 18th hole with a birdie, her third in a row. This was no Big Wiesy “Big Chokesy” – the Stanford kid played great, and even threw a haymaker of her own with a birdie on 17.

And how about Juli Inkster halving a point in a key match with an important par on 18? Inkster is 51, which means if you mention her age to her face, she might bop you on the nose. The women’s game may never have seen a more fierce combatant. Inkster, a big fan of the San Francisco Giants, missed her calling as a ballplayer who lives to break up two with a hard slide – and she wouldn’t be wearing soft spikes.

Credit to Europe for pulling out the win on the home turf. The sad part is, after the matches, both teams met in the clubhouse to compare continental debt and currency crises. I kid! Sort of.

Meanwhile, the Asian women players dawdle on the practice range, giving the old playground shout: “We got next!”

Broadcast moment of the week

“Great format. Lot of scenarios. But you gotta have graduated from MIT to figure it out.” – Johnny Miller, NBC, saying what we were all thinking during the final holes of the Tour Championship at East Lake.

Bless Steve Sands and his grease board. His furious working of the dry erase pen had me thinking he did the impossible – blended the election-day ghosts of the great Tim Russert with the crazed fury of an infomercial. But wait! There’s more!

Sands worked hard to explain the FedEx Cup playoff race to us, but I wound up feeling like I was back in high school algebra class. I had an uncontrollable urge to pass a note to the cute red-headed girl in the next row.

Miller put it into words: None of us knew what was happening. Neither did the players. Heck, Jimmy Roberts reported that Bill Haas himself came to the post-round interview not knowing if he’d won. Yeah, just like the New York Yankees when they make the final out of the World Series: “Wait … did we win?”

Again, faithful readers know I made a promise to not make too much fun of the FedEx Cup’s confusing morass. Instead, as I noted four weeks ago, we should be thankful for competitive golf at a high level with good fields into the last weekend of September. Say it enough times and you’ll believe it.

Mulligan of the week

• Let’s do something different this week. Instead of offering mulligans to U.S. Solheim Cup rookie Ryann O’Toole – who bogeyed 17 and 18 to blow her match – or instead of offering mulligans to Luke Donald (one wayward stroke from $10 million), let’s offer the ‘prove it to me’ mulligan.

Hunter Mahan has to come clean and tell us all that he figured the $10 million was in the bag when Bill Haas’ second shot on 17 trickled into the water. Mahan was looking at birdie, and par guaranteed, safely on the green. Haas? Shoot, he’d be lucky to make bogey from the water. Mahan could begin counting his cash, and the endless amount of glam-rock shades he could buy for future golf rounds.

Instead, Haas created the “Sweet Take From the Lake” shot, and popped his golf ball from the aquatic part of earth to terra firma – 36 inches from the hole. Nobody saw Mahan actually mouth the words “You gotta be [blanking] kidding me,” but you know he thought them. Mahan’s $10 million payday – surely, his bride was planning a monster online shopping spree – would wither to an $864,000 payday for Mr. Congeniality.

So, let’s go back out to the 17th green, drop Haas’ ball in the water again, and do what Hunter Mahan would love to do … give that man a mulligan – and prove to me you can make that shot again!

Where do we go from here?

• The PGA Tour heads into the Fall Series, the equivalent to the rolling-of-credits at the end of a movie. The Presidents Cup looms in November, which should be fun – if only for reminding us it was two years ago in November that Tiger Woods won the Australian Open and was king of all he surveyed. And Tiger himself will take some medicine and play the Frys.com Open at CordeValle near San Jose in two weeks, an amazing bit of humble pie to be consumed by a guy who in a past life would have treated the Fall Series like something on the bottom of his shoe.

This column will crop up as occasion warrants, so don’t think I’ll go too far from you lovely readers. This does end the weekly postings, however. I’ve got to run – I’ve got a foursome slated with Johnny Vegas and D.A. Points and Bill Murray. After all, as you know, I’m a West Coast Swing kind of guy.

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Brian Murphy writes a weekly golf column for Yahoo! Sports. Send Brian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Sep 26, 2011