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Slew of improbable contenders sees Haas pull off $11.4M heist

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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ATLANTA -- Just call him Dollar Bill, even though he had no clue he was pulling off one of the biggest 11th-hour heists in sports history.

After he had maneuvered his way through an excruciating series of improbable, head-spinning scenarios with other contenders, Bill Haas had no idea that, as he stood on the tee box opposite Hunter Mahan preparing for a playoff at the Tour Championship, there was a staggering $11.44 million up for grabs.

"I don't want to sound ignorant, oblivious to the situation," he laughed. "But I wasn't really sure."

Hey, for most of the day, neither were we.

After a final round in which five different players at East Lake Golf Club were tabbed as the projected winner of the biggest bonus in golf, Haas was the last man on the property to grasp what was really on the table. But he was the one holding the chrome and bags of cash at the end.

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As he walked up to the awards ceremony and saw one trophy for the tournament and another for the winner of the FedEx Cup points race sitting in front of him, he asked his wife whether all the booty was for him.

"They're both yours," commissioner Tim Finchem said.

All that and the last spot on the Presidents Cup roster too, quite possibly.

After he pulled off two of the craziest playoff par saves in memory, including one from the waters of East Lake itself, Bill's mom, Jan, watched as he stood over a four-footer with all that lucre on the line. Reminded of those rather salient facts, she looked as white as a sheet.

"Don't make me cry," she said.

A second later, her son rolled in the putt to complete the biggest rally in the five-year history of the FedEx Cup series, coming from 25th place in points in a 30-man field to win both the tournament and bonus on the third extra hole. It was an emotional haul like no other, topping Jim Furyk's victory here last year from the 11th spot on the points list.

Finchem, whose cockamamie points concoction seemed headed more for a crash than crescendo just a few minutes earlier, looked down on the 18th green from a camera perch in the bleachers and grinned like a wizard as it all unfolded.

Incredibly, Haas had saved the day after enduring the most confusing finale in series history. Case in point -- as the final twosome played the last hole of regulation, four different players still had a shot at the $10 million bonus. It was all nearly as confused as Haas, 29, himself.

It's silverware, crystal and a lot of money for Bill Haas this weekend in Atlanta. (Getty Images)  
It's silverware, crystal and a lot of money for Bill Haas this weekend in Atlanta. (Getty Images)  
It was a dizzying day of permutations that was nearly impossible to track, and for a while, it seemed that the controversial points system might finally be headed toward implosion. Then the two 20-something Americans dueled for virtually all the marbles -- with the bonuses and purse differential figured, the gap between paydays for Mahan and Haas was a gulp-inducing $9.876 million.

Maybe it's better Haas didn't have a clue about the enormity of it all, because a couple of his shots in the playoff were wild enough as it was.

"I noticed it said it on the scoreboard on the 18th [in regulation], 'Projected No. 1,'" said Jay Haas Jr., Bill's older brother and caddie. "I thought, 'Really?'"

Absolutely.

The caddie didn't say anything, though, as they headed off for the playoff, since trying to win the biggest of Bill's three PGA Tour titles had their bellies churning. As Bill and Jay jumped into a golf cart to head to playoff after finishing in a tie with Mahan at 8 under in regulation, Finchem yelled down to their dad, Jay, a former PGA Tour player of considerable stature himself.

"You handling this OK, Jay?" Finchem said.

Jay Haas joked that it took him "seven or eight seasons before I won my first million." It took his son about 30 minutes to make 10 times as much.

The winner was still somewhat in shock an hour later. After blowing up in the final round a week earlier at the BMW Championship with a 42 on the back nine, and then playing the last two holes in Saturday's third round in 3-over, he was hardly a happy man. He had dinner with his family on Saturday night at a local pizza joint and was seething.

"You'd have thought he was the worst golfer in Atlanta," Jay Haas laughed. "Or all of Georgia, maybe."

A day later, Haas not only saved the FedEx Cup from being decided by accountants, he made it edge-of-the-seat fare. On the first playoff hole, he blew a 4-iron into the bleachers that was so far foul, you half expected Steve Bartman to attempt catching it. He pitched to 11 feet and made it to extend the duel.

On the second extra hole, he drove in a bunker and bombed his approach off the collar of the green and into a half-inch of water in East Lake. He grabbed his 60-degree wedge and spun the ball deftly to 30 inches for another insane save, as water splashed everywhere.

"It was a beautiful shot," Mahan said admiringly. "It was impressive."

It ended on the third hole when Mahan bogeyed and Haas' entire family was there to greet him on the 18th green. Then Finchem started handing him trophies, other prizes and IOUs for staggering sums of money.

There's another huge wrinkle that won't be ironed out until Tuesday night, when U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples announces his last pick for the 12-man team headed to Australia on Nov. 17-20. The complicated part is that Bill's father is the vice-captain.

"I am going to stay out of it," Jay said on the 18th green.

It would mean that two-time winner Keegan Bradley, the lone American to win a major this year, would get passed over because Couples already, and controversially, gave one pick to world No. 50 Tiger Woods. After coming back from his BMW meltdown and the sloppy finish at East Lake on Saturday, father was liking his son's chances.

"I am really proud of him for coming back from that," Jay said, politicking just a little it. "That says a lot about him. I think it's hard to overlook that."

It was hard to disregard the miracle that took place a few feet below Finchem's spot in the grandstand. With statistical pandemonium breaking loose, Haas saved the day and the commish came up smelling like a bazillion bucks again, especially with FedEx senior VP Don Colleran seated in a front-row seat, perhaps 15 feet away. Why? FedEx's sponsorship expires after 2012.

Seriously, Finchem was grinning at least as broadly as Haas when the chrome and cash was disseminated. Everything that needed to happen for Haas to win transpired, and the FedEx series had its wildest ending yet.

"It worked out better than I could have imagined," Bill said.

Or more accurately, better than anybody not possessing a math degree could have figured.

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