5 Things: Playing it safe pays off for Haas

Bill Haas celebrates after winning the Northern Trust Open golf tournament on the second playoff hole at Riviera Country Club.

Bill Haas celebrates after winning the Northern Trust Open golf tournament on the second playoff hole at Riviera Country Club.

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Bill Haas chose not to go after the pin on his approach at No. 10, and his calculated play landed him the Northern Trust Open title after a two-hole playoff with major champions Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

Playing first from the rough at the short par-4, Haas was staring at a bunker in front of him and little chance of stopping the ball near the pin, so he chose to hit to the middle of the green and play for a two-putt par.

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After Mickelson tried to go after the pin from short and right of the green and watched his ball trickle into a bunker and Bradley played a nice bunker shot to the back fringe, Haas calmly stepped up to his 43-foot birdie putt and drained it. Mickelson and Bradley couldn't answer, and Haas won for the first time since winning the Tour Championship in September.

"It's brutal. I mean, I think that hole can be a little unfair at times," said Bradley. "There's not a really good place you can hit it to that pin unless you hit it on the green. Bill hit a great shot to get to where he was. It's just a hole that you kind of have to – you have to hit really good shots. You've got to get a little lucky, too. My ball could have trickled over and then into the bunker and I didn't have a putt. It's a good hole for a playoff, that's for sure."

Here are 5 Things to take away from Sunday's exciting final round:

1. Model of consistency: Bill Haas, with only three PGA Tour titles to his name before Sunday, has started the 2012 in consistent fashion. He has four top-20 finishes in five starts, including the win on Sunday and a T-4 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Haas was atop many of the statistical categories this week, but was T-1 in putts per round (25.8 ppr). He was also third in strokes gained putting (2.251) and T-9 in birdies with 15.

Until a T-12 finish in 2011, Riviera had not been kind to Haas, who missed the cut in both 2009 and 2010, with a T-36 finish in 2008.

Another interesting tidbit for Haas this week: He was able to play the tricky par-4 10th hole at 1 under over the five times he saw it. He birdied the hole on both Thursday and Sunday (twice), while making bogey on Friday and Saturday. He only birdied two other holes more than once over the four days, the par-5 first hole (eagle, two birdies) and the par-4 18th hole (two birdies).

2. Rounding into shape: Mickelson had an exciting two weeks in California, surging past Tiger Woods and the rest of the field at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for his fourth career title there and then nearly pulling off a miracle finish at Riviera for back-to-back titles. The last guy to do that on Tour? Yeah, that'd be Tiger in 2009.

Four bogeys on Sunday made Mickelson the chaser instead of the chased. After running out to 9 under and a two-shot lead through seven holes on Sunday, Mickelson made bogey on Nos. 8-9 to let Haas and Bradley back into the tournament.

He narrowly missed a 21-foot birdie putt on No. 17, leaving it one revolution short, forcing him to make his spectacular birdie on No. 18.

"It was sure right in the middle. It needed a little bit more roll," Mickelson said of his putt at the par-5 17th. "I missed the 3‑wood to the right of the green. I shouldn't have done that. I had to be left and I could have chipped across it, so I just put that ball in the wrong spot."

Mickelson won't be playing the WGC-Match Play Championship this week. His eyes are on one thing: The Masters.

"These last two weeks have been good," said Mickelson. "I'll have two weeks off here. I've got some work I've got to do and see if I can get my game sharp. I'll start at Doral and I'll play Doral, and the week after I'll take off, but I'll still be practicing getting ready for the run up to Augusta."

3. Surging Sergio: After making the cut on the number, Sergio Garcia made the most of the weekend, especially on Sunday.

Starting on the back nine, Garcia made the turn in 6-under 30, which included two eagles, one at the par-5 11th and another at the par-4 15th. He would pick up birdies at Nos. 1 and 3 to put the golf world temporarily on a "59 watch." But a pair of bogeys at Nos. 4 and 7 put an end to those thoughts. He still carded the lowest round of the tournament at 7-under 64.

Garcia only had 24 putts on Sunday.

"I felt like I hit a lot of good putts, a couple here and there that I would love to hit better, but I've been putting nicely for a while now, and it feels good," said Garcia. "Obviously I have days where I make more and days where I make less, but at the end of the day, it's about how you feel."

4. Rickie's not so fine: Entering the season with high expectations after his win in Korea toward the end of 2011, Rickie Fowler carded an 8-over 79 on Sunday, a round that included no birdies and a double-bogey on the par-3 fourth hole.

The stat line for Fowler at Riviera wasn't good, as he made 16 bogeys, nine birdies and no eagles over the four days. His putts-per-round are of concern, with 29-28-28-34 over the four days (T-66 for the tournament).

Fowler doesn't have a history of success at the Northern Trust Open, with a T-34 finish in 2011 and a missed cut in 2010.

This year's T-62 finish is coming on the heels of a missed cut at Pebble Beach and he has only one top-25 finish in four PGA Tour tournaments this season.

5. Bo knows golf: Bo Van Pelt has quietly put together a solid six-month stretch of golf, with top-10 finishes in seven of his last 12 tournaments, including back-to-back T-8 finishes in 2012 (Northern Trust and Phoenix Open).

He was fourth in putts-per-round at Riviera, averaging 26 per round. He was No. 1 in the field with 19 birdies, while being T-2 in putts per green in regulation (1.6 ppg).

For the 2012 season, Van Pelt is 14th on Tour for driving distance (303.0 yards), while he is 15th in greens in regulation (73.89%).

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