5 Things: An 'unexpected' win for Bill Haas

Bill Haas celebrates on the 18th green after defeating Hunter Mahan on the third playoff hole to win both the TOUR Championship and the FedEx Cup after the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 25, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Bill Haas won $11.4 million on Sunday during a final round at East Lake that required exquisite shotmaking, waterproof shoes and, in the frenetic final hour, an advanced mathematics degree.

Like any good season finale, the Tour Championship tied together all the necessary story lines but also left room for discussion. Haas won the 30-man Tour Championship – and $1.44 million prize – on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff with Hunter Mahan. Then came the bonus, 10 large, for capturing the yearlong FedEx Cup race.

“This is very unexpected,” said Haas, 29, two trophies by his side.

Yet so much is still to be determined.

Who will make the Presidents Cup team? Two captain’s picks per side will be announced this week. Tiger Woods is assured of one spot. Haas now seems a likely pick, too. Officials for the International squad . . . well, they have some decisions to make.

Who will be the Player of the Year? No player won more than twice on Tour this season, but strong cases could be made for World No. 1 Luke Donald, for PGA champ Keegan Bradley, even for Webb Simpson, arguably the hottest player in the sport but whose flat performance Sunday (finished 22nd) kept alive the dash for 10 mil.

Here are five things to take away from the Tour Championship:

• • •

1. Playoff for the payoff: The back-and-forth between Mahan and Haas on Sunday was gripping theater – even if it essentially amounted to two multimillionaires vying for even more cash. Poor Steve Sands. All week the Golf Channel reporter, standing at a dry-erase board, attempted to explain to the TV audience all the permutations and fluctuations. But when Mahan sank a 5-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, only one scenario remained: He and Haas would play off for the Tour Championship, for the FedEx Cup, and, yes, for more than $11 million.

The three-hole playoff lacked stellar play but not a defining moment. On the second extra hole, the par-4 17th, Haas pulled his approach into shallow water left of the green. With his right foot in the pond, he played his third like a bunker shot and splashed out to 3 feet – even getting spin on the ball – and sank the par putt to extend the playoff. Within minutes, “Bill Haas” was trending on Twitter.

Haas’ par on the next hole – a two-putt from the back fringe on 18 – seemed pedestrian by contrast, but it was enough to capture both titles when Mahan couldn’t get up-and-down out of the greenside bunker.

“All I could do was win and hope,” said Haas, who won his third Tour title. “It all fell into place.”

• • •

2. Nearly-men: If one of the top five players on the reset FedEx Cup points list won the Tour Championship, he automatically would win the FedEx Cup and $10 million prize. Only Luke Donald gave himself a realistic chance.

Webb Simpson, first in points, finished 22nd at East Lake. Dustin Johnson never broke 70, tied for 23rd, then split with his caddie, Joe LaCava. Justin Rose never contended and finished 20th. Donald was third but didn’t receive the necessary bump from Aaron Baddeley (he finished one back). Kuchar also was 20th.

So, a year after Jim Furyk came from outside of the top 5 to claim the richest prize in golf, another player with a win-or-bust mentality walked away with the cash.

“A little disappointed I didn’t play any better,” Simpson said, “but I’m pretty tired right now, and it’s kind of shown in my golf game this week.”

• • •

3. Aussie homecoming? Aaron Baddeley entered the final round of the Tour Championship with a share of the lead, but two bogeys around the turn Sunday doomed his chances of taking home the cash. Yet it still would appear that he did enough to convince captain Greg Norman that he warranted selection to the International Presidents Cup team.

Baddeley, who won at Riviera in February, grew up in Melbourne and desperately wanted to be part of the 12-man squad that in November will take on the Americans at Royal Melbourne. He is among three Aussies – Robert Allenby and John Senden – lobbying for one of the final two spots that will be announced Tuesday.

“It’s frustrating not to win because you’re right there and you feel like you’re playing well enough, but at the same time I definitely showed Greg that I did what I needed to do to come here and play well,” Baddeley said. “Hopefully I’ll get a positive phone call from Greg.”

As for the Americans, the Tour Championship seemed to answer any lingering questions. Couples already said Woods would receive a pick. Haas, the newly minted FedEx Cup champ, now seems a lock for the final spot. It helps, too, that his father, Jay, is an assistant captain. Also under consideration is PGA champ Keegan Bradley or Brandt Snedeker, who was 11th in points (top 10 automatically qualify).

• • •

4. Ailing Stricker: Even with a weak left arm, herniated disk and bone spur, Steve Stricker still managed to finish 15th at East Lake. An MRI exam Tuesday may determine when next we will see him on the course.

At No. 5, Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world. He finished second in Presidents Cup qualifying. He has won twice this season, most recently in July, but the discomfort in his neck and arm has intensified over the past few weeks. He withdrew from the BMW Championship to undergo a cortisone shot. Then, after an opening 70 at East Lake, Stricker conceded that he may not be physically fit to play the Presidents Cup in mid-November. That would mean a new Presidents Cup partner for Woods, who went 4-0 with Stricker two years ago at Harding Park.

“I just feel beat up,” Stricker said.

• • •

5. Playoff fever: Despite its inherent flaws, the FedEx Cup has undeniably produced four great tournaments with the Tour’s best players at a time on the golf calendar that is typically quiet.

Each postseason event was close – none won by more than two strokes, with a pair of playoffs. And the Tour Championship, while it may be more entertaining with some element of match play, gives hope to those players who simply make it to East Lake. At No. 25 in points entering this week, Haas was the lowest seed to win in the five-year history of the FedEx Cup.

“Well, I guess this is what the FedEx Cup is all about,” Donald said. “It’s meant to be exciting, and there’s a lot of different scenarios. It’s an exciting finish, and it’s good for golf and good for the fans.”

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