BLAINE, Minnesota – Standing on the 18th green needing a two-putt to win, Jay Haas stood over his putt and backed away.
Then he did it again.
He finally two-putted from about 30 feet for birdie to win the 3M Championship Sunday, beating Tom Lehman, Kenny Perry and Peter Senior by one shot. It was his first tour victory in two years.
“I probably should have just run up there and hit because the more I backed off the more my arm started to shake and my hands were shaking,” he said. “I’m all about speed, and I have a picture in my head of how hard I want to hit it and I just couldn’t see that speed for some reason. I was just thinking about don’t hit it fat, don’t rip it by, don’t do all this stuff, all these negative thoughts, so I backed away. Then I kind of heard something kind of rustling around and I backed away again. I was just trying to be as ready as I could be.”
Haas smiled when asked how nervous he was playing the final few holes, especially the par-5 No. 18 with an approach shot over water.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been not nervous on the final hole with a chance to win,” he said. “I hope I continue to be that way.”
Haas started the day one shot behind Senior and John Huston and had a 68 to finish at 15-under 201, the highest winning score at the tournament since 2006.
“Jay played better and deserved to win,” said Lehman, a Minnesota-native who increased his lead in the season-long points race.
Four weeks ago, Haas led going into the final round of the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, but finished tied for second. It was an experience that benefited the 58 year old Sunday.
“My score wasn’t great that day, but I hit a lot of good shots under pressure,” he said. “I probably hit some of the best shots (today) on the back nine that I’ve hit in a long time. It was nice to do that under pressure and know that I could still do that. I didn’t know if it would ever happen again. I’ve seen some of the ‘Old Guard’ win a few times lately, so I didn’t think my age was that much of a factor. I just needed to play better and hit better shots.”
Seven players were in the lead at 12 under with six holes to play.
Haas, who birdied three straight holes on the front side to get to 13 under before a bogey at No. 10, birdied No. 14 to open a two-shot lead. Perry, who missed a 1-foot par putt on the same hole, birdied No. 16 to get within one and - playing two groups in front of Haas - tied Haas with a birdie on No. 18 after his eagle attempt slid just right. Playing in the second-to-last group, Lehman also birdied No. 18 to temporarily move into a first-place tie.
Forty-six players birdied the final hole and five recorded eagles.
Perry, who has four top-10s in six Champions Tour starts, birdied three of first four holes and five of his first seven to get to 13 under, but struggled to get out a bunker on the par-4 No. 9 and recorded a double-bogey. He was 3 under on the back nine.
“I told my caddie I’m close, I told my wife. I’m playing really good golf,” he said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride out here. I averaged seven birdies a day out here, but I couldn’t eliminate the mistakes and that’s what got me.”
Lehman, who started the day two back, said he was undone by not getting a birdie until the 11th hole. He birdied three of his final seven holes.
“Yesterday was the day that really hurt me,” he said. “Making three stupid bogeys yesterday was a real mess up.”
In a rather uneventful round, Senior bogeyed No. 9 and birdied Nos. 12, 16 and 18.
Hal Sutton (67) finished two shots back and Tom Watson (65) and Mark O’Meara (68) were three behind. Watson made a 70-foot eagle putt on the final hole, which was statistically the easiest hole all week.
Huston and Olin Browne were among a group of nine players to finish at 11 under.
Browne, who won last week’s U.S. Senior Open and started the day 10 shots off the pace, shot the day’s low round, a 9-under 63.