ATLANTA – Now this we can understand, two players trading blows on a classic layout with $11.4 million on the line.
On Sunday at East Lake the Confusion Cup gave way to the ultimate competitive clarity. A playoff to decide a playoff, overtime overload for some, a work of art for Bill Haas. A day that began with one American Solheim Cup player in tears ended with a U.S. Presidents Cup captain cheering.
To recap, Haas secured the Tour Championship title, the FedEx Cup crown, some $11.4 million in assorted winnings and a likely text message from U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples welcoming him to the team sometime soon thanks to a gritty performance that simplified the endless calculations with refreshing simplicity.
Haas finished 72 holes at the Tour Championship tied with Hunter Mahan at 8 under, traded pars at the first extra hole, got up-and-down from East Lake – really, the lake, or at least part of its receded boundaries – at the second and coolly two-putted the last overtime frame (No. 18) from 50 feet for par and a $10 million payday and $1.4 million winner’s check.
Three extra holes to decide a championship in Atlanta. Sound familiar?
Not a bad haul for a guy who’d been clipped twice this season in a playoff and finished his Saturday round bogey/double-bogey to slip out of the lead, and seemingly off Couples’ radar for a captain’s pick on Tuesday.
“I told him, ‘You’re probably playing better than anyone else in the field, you just need to believe in it,’” said Jay Haas, Bill’s father and one of Couples’ assistant captains. “You’d have thought he was the worst golfer in Georgia last night, so I am unbelievably proud of him.”
If Couples needed any proof of the young Haas’ grit it came by way a flurry of Seve-like saves at the first and second extra holes. The latter was particularly impressive considering he went from a fairway bunker to a bank adjacent the 17th green. From the mud Haas made magic, splashing his shot to 2 feet to extend the playoff.
“During the practice round me and my caddie looked down there (on No. 17) and saw how low the water was. We threw some balls down there just in case,” said Mahan, who dropped his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the last extra hole and failed to convert his 14-footer for par. “But he spun it – that’s all you need to know about that shot.”
And all one needed to know about the FedEx Cup was answered on Sunday. For the second time in five years the Tour hit the lottery, with a dramatic finish that cleared the math-muddled air and gave the galleries, however thin, something to understand.
To comprehend the extent of the projection madness consider this scenario as the action unfolded with the final groups finishing their rounds. If Mahan were to double bogey the 18th hole in regulation, Haas would have won the Tour Championship and Luke Donald would have collected the FedEx Cup cash and prizes, or so the Tour’s pocket protectors explained.
When Webb Simpson, the points leader entering the finale, walked off the golf course more than an hour before the leaders were finished he was tied for 22nd and needed Aaron Baddeley to win the Tour Championship to claim the cup.
Baddeley’s driver issues ultimately cost him the Tour Championship, but his tie for third likely secured him one of International captain Greg Norman’s picks and a place at his beloved Royal Melbourne in November.
“It’s frustrating not to win but at the same time I did show Greg I can do what I need to do and look forward to getting a call from him,” Baddeley said.
For the first time in the five-year FedEx Cup experiment the gravity of winning the gross domestic product of a small nation weighed heavily on all comers. Some will decry the competitive disconnect that comes with millionaires playing for millions, but on Sunday the dollar demons were ever-present.
“With everything going on in my head I just wanted to give myself a chance and I did,” said Jason Day, who held a share of the lead until a bogey-bogey finish dropped him into a tie for sixth.
Until now the FedEx Cup champions (Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk) have been those who, by all accounts, had bank accounts that weren’t going to be changed dramatically by a $10 million infusion. Singh won $10.9 million in 2004 long before he hoisted the cup, Furyk had $46.2 million in career earnings last year when he won and Woods, well, he is Woods.
The point is, the $10 million was nice but it wasn’t a game-changer. Until Sunday. Not that Haas seemed interested in the season-long victory during his duel with Mahan.
“We had some interviews on the 18th green and I noticed both trophies sitting there and there wasn’t another player there, so I asked my wife if I’d won both (the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup),” Haas said when asked how he learned he’d won both titles.
“All these things had to happen for me to win. I didn’t know what to say. My hands were shaking in regulation, in the playoff. It’s hard.”
About the only thing Haas didn’t decide at East Lake was the Player of the Year race, a messy mix of multiple winners that includes Keegan Bradley with two titles and a PGA high card, Luke Donald and his 13 top-10 finishes and a WGC and Simpson, who won twice in the last month of the season and also had two runner-up showings.
But that final accolade will be decided by player vote, not convoluted math thanks to Haas’ competitive clarity. For Haas the Tour Championship was a life-changing victory. For the rest of us it was simply a nice change.