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Haas wins playoff with long putt

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Associated Press
February 20, 2012
— Bill Haas knows anything is possible from even the most dire positions. Remember, this is the guy only five months ago saved par with his ball partially submerged in a lake and won the FedEx Cup.

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 playoff.


Haas, who closed with a 2-under 69, was on the practice range at 7-under 277 as he warmed up for a playoff 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 playoff 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 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 PGA Tour title and moved to No. 12 in the world.


“To beat guys of that caliber is amazing, something I will never forget,” Haas said.


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.


Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, struggled after the opening round and closed with a 78.



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