Best playoff field in years gives Riviera a major-tourney feel

Devil Ball Golf

When the TV cameras approached him on the way to the practice range, Bill Haas, in the clubhouse with a one-stroke lead on the field at the Northern Trust Open, said the right things.

"Keegan and Phil are going to birdie 18, and we're going to a playoff," he smiled. You have to say those kinds of things when the tournament's not nailed down; to say This one's in the bag; no way those guys are going to get anything below par on that brute would only invite the wrath of the golf gods.

Perhaps Haas thought it a little too loudly, however, because sure enough, both Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley holed brutally long birdie putts, only the seventh and eighth on the day at that hole, to force a playoff. That set up one of the best three-man shootouts in recent memory: one of the world's marquee players versus the reigning FedEx Cup and PGA Championship winners.

[Related: Leading man Phil Mickelson falls to supporting actor Bill Haas]

It was like the three-man Mexican standoff in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," except with putters instead of revolvers (Though revolvers would have been cool too). Combine Haas' good putting, Bradley's bad luck and Mickelson's ugly drives, and you had a two-hole playoff that was a fitting end to a fine tournament and a perfect precursor to majors season.

Haas won on the second playoff hole, the par-4 10th, after Bradley's birdie putt on the first curled just right. Mickelson, meanwhile, couldn't gauge the distance, and ended up hitting his second shot into the bunker on the 10th.

And this, then, is vintage Mickelson. In control all tournament, he even streaked out to a three-stroke lead early on Sunday before bogeying hole after hole. He then came within a single ball's rotation of holing a lead-tying birdie on 17, and followed with a stunning 25-foot putt to force the playoff on 18. In other words: all over the damn map.

Still, take nothing away from either Haas or Bradley here. Bradley proved that his PGA Championship was, as yet, no fluke. And Haas appears to be set up well to take down his first major this year; the guy appears to have exactly zero trouble with pressure.

Oh, and one more thing? Americans are now 7 for 7 in PGA Tour events this year. Too early to say the USA is back?

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