First, Phil Mickelson drained a curling 25-footer for birdie on No. 18 in regulation to get himself in a playoff with Bill Haas, who was keeping loose at the range after signing for a two-under 69, seven-under total.
You could hear the roars all the way down Sunset Blvd to Hollywood. Jerry “Mr. Clutch” West threw both arms up in celebration. The CEO of Northern Trust, Rick Waddell, was screaming and jumping like a little kid. (Meanwhile, I’m not sure why some of us looked so shocked — it’s Phil the Thrill, after all.)
Mickelson, coming off his 40th win last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, fist-bumped Keegan Bradley and said, “Join me.” And he obeyed. Keegan rolled in a 14-footer to make it a three-way battle.
Lately, though, Haas has made a habit of making the craziest, biggest shots when it’s mattered most. At least in the last five months — no one (sorry, no golf fan) can forget the $11-million one he almost holed out on No. 17 at East Lake with his ball half-submerged in the water and the sand. Well, he did something of the kind again.
With most eyes on Mickelson and some on Bradley, Haas made the biggest putt of the day on No. 10, the second playoff hole — he even looked surprised after his 43-footer for birdie disappeared into the cup.
Turns out he was.
“I never expected to make a 40-footer, and especially in that situation,” said Haas in his post-round presser. “That was a little bit of luck involved, but felt like I put a good roll on it, and it was meant to be, I guess.”
Keegan didn’t see it coming, either.
“I didn’t think he was going to make that one,” he said. “I should have known, though, because (Bill) is a great putter and a great player.”
Phil’s pitch rolled into the back bunker and he needed a(nother) prayer to hole it out. Keegan’s second shot from the front bunker almost did the same, but stopped on the fringe about 12 feet from the pin. It looked like the reigning PGA champ had the best look for birdie.
Meanwhile, Haas had pulled his drive to the left of the green and left himself with a terrible lie. It was sitting down in the rough with a tuft of grass behind it. His older brother and caddie Jay Jr. told him the best play was to pitch it to the front of the green instead of trying to hit a Hail Mary shot at the flag, which was tucked on the back shelf.
“It’s unbelievable, you always get a bad lie over there (on the left of 10 green),” said Jay Jr, standing on the 10th green, not far from where his brother had putted. “It was really, to me, it was the only play he had to have a birdie putt. If he’d hit an absolute perfect shot, he could have hit it close, but he would have had a 1 in 50 shot. Obviously over here, you can make birdie.”
“I hit (my drive) pretty similar, not quite as far left in regulation, and I went at the pin, and I hit it on the back fringe, and I made it from 12 feet for birdie in regulation,” he said. “So part of me was like, ‘Well, I’ve done this once, let’s try it again.’ But the other part of me was like, ‘You’ve done this once, let’s not screw it up this time. Play safe, play smart.’
“I thought they were both very difficult situations in themselves. With that being said, I said, ‘Let’s just play out to the right.’ My brother just said, ‘I think the only place that you can get a birdie putt is if you go to the right.’ Basically (he was) saying if you go at the pin you can’t keep it on the green, and I agreed with him, and I hit a nice shot just to get it where it did. Honestly, that was not as easy a shot as you might think.”
No, it wasn’t at all.
To be honest, before Phil’s second shot rolled into the bunker, I felt like Haas was almost an afterthought because of his position into the green. Also, the fans were largely cheering for Mickelson (shocking!), while the rest seemed to be pulling for Keegan.
“I don’t say this in a negative way, but everybody is cheering for Phil,” said Haas. “He just won this last week, he’s the man, and if I’m at home, I’m cheering for Phil. Everybody is saying, ‘Go Phil, go Phil.’ Keegan has a big fan base. I think they were easily more popular than I was in that group, not in a bad way…
“I just was somewhat under the radar, I guess. I wasn’t in the final group with them. They both birdied 18, they certainly had the fans on their side, which if that’s the way it is, that’s fine, flying under the radar. It was unexpected for me and for the fans maybe the way it ended up.”
There was an occasional holler for Bill, but as Haas himself pointed out, it could have actually been “Phil.”
“Honestly, ‘Phil’ sounds really similar to ‘Bill’, so you just kind of pretend that maybe they’re for you,” said Haas, smiling.
As the fans started to disperse and officials and executives were congratulating Bill, Amy Mickelson jumped out of a golf cart near the back of the green. She ran toward Julie Haas, Bill’s wife, gave her a congratulatory hug and said, laughing happily, “What a freaking putt!!!”
Indeed it was.
(AP Photos/Chris Carlson)