LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Bill Haas pulled off another imaginative escape to win the Humana Challenge.
“I think of myself as more of a painter and not a mechanic,” Haas said.
Far less dramatic or lucrative than the shot he splashed out of the water to 3 feet in a playoff victory in the 2011 Tour Championship, Haas came through with another bold play Sunday after his drive on the par-5 18th stopped on top of the front lip of a right fairway bunker.
“You got to come up with something,” Haas said.
Standing in the sand with the ball in dormant grass at nearly waist level, he choked up on an 8-iron and gave it a whack.
“I easily could have whiffed it, could have chunked it and moved it 5 yards,” Haas said.
Instead, he hit it 80 yards down the fairway. That left him 170 yards and he hit another 8-iron safely to the middle of the green to set up his winning two-putt par.
He was afraid to hit left-handed and considered a one-handed shot standing backward.
“Using the little toe of the club left-handed, the water was in play, out of bounds might have been in play, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that,” Haas said. “I have done the thing before backwards where you do it one-handed and poke it down the fairway. I almost did that.”
Haas pulled ahead with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th and escaped with the par on 18 for a one-stroke victory. He closed with a 5-under 67 for his sixth PGA Tour title. The 32-year-old former Wake Forest player won the 2010 event for his first tour victory.
“Honestly, if you would have told me I would have done this last week, I would have laughed at you,” Haas said. “To be here is an unbelievable feeling.”
Haas earned $1,026,000, a fraction of the $11.44 million he made in in Atlanta in the 2011 Tour Championship.
His father, Jay, won the 1998 tournament. Haas’ great uncle, 85-year-old Bob Goalby, was in the gallery at PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course. Goalby won the 1968 Masters.
Haas was making his first start since November. He took the break to rest his left wrist, fractured in April when he fell down stairs.
“I played a little bit,” Haas said. “I didn’t just put the clubs up.”
Haas got to 22 under with the birdie on 16, breaking a six-man tie for the lead.
“I’ve been in a tournament where I’ve been maybe one ahead or tied, but not with five or six guys right behind me knowing that if I dump one in the water, I go from winning to finishing 10th,” Haas said.
Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman, Brendan Steele, Steve Wheatcroft and Sung Joon Park tied for second. Hoffman and Steele shot 64, Park had a 65, and Kuchar and Wheatcroft shot 67.
Haas kept a share of the lead with a key par save on the par-3 15th. Short-sided in the left bunker, he blasted to 6 feet.
“That was one of the moments where I knew if I missed that I was going from leading to maybe not even top 10,” Haas said.
He had a chance to increase the lead on the par-3 17th, but missed a 10-foot birdie try with a bighorn sheep grazing nearby at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains.
On 18, with water on the left, his drive went too far right.
“I was doing everything I could to not go left. So, what do you do? You go right,” he said.
Haas eagled the par-5 sixth for a share of the lead, setting up his 15-foot putt with a 260-yard shot from the dormant left rough with the ball below his feet.
“That was huge,” Haas said. “Just fortunate that 5-wood came out like it did, because out of that Bermuda rough, anything can happen.”
Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Boo Weekley tied for seventh, two strokes back.
Thomas, playing alongside Haas and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, dropped out of the lead on 16 with a double bogey after hitting into the canal from a fairway bunker.
“Hit fractionally behind it and in the water she went,” Thomas said.
The 21-year-old former Alabama player birdied 18 for a 69.
Compton shot 70 to tie for 10th, three strokes back at 19 under.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way I started,” Compton said. “You got to put your foot down.”
Phil Mickelson had a 68 to tie for 24th at 15 under in his first start since the Ryder Cup.
“It was a good week to get the year started,” Mickelson said. “Now we’ll see the next two weeks if I can get that fine-tuning done.”
DIVOTS: Colt Knost had a 63 — the best round of the day — to tie for 10th at 19 under. He was in the first group off the 10th tee and played his final nine holes behind Haas’ group. … Patrick Reed, the winner last year, shot 71 to finish at 15 under. He started the year with a playoff victory in the Tournament of Champions.
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