LOS ANGELES — Bill Haas played alongside Phil Mickelson in what seemed like a one-sided affair outside the ropes, where chants of “Phil” chased after them in the cool air of the Pacific Ocean.
This was a year ago at Torrey Pines.
In the gallery was Billy Harmon, Haas’ swing coach. The more famous Harmon is his older brother, Butch, though the family often jokes that it’s only because Butch has better clients.
Ultimately, Bubba Watson won the tournament. A year later, Haas is starting to show he belongs in the stable of top American golfers.
Up the California coast Sunday, on a Riviera course that played the toughest of any PGA Tour event this year, Haas steadied himself after consecutive bogeys on the back nine with a 3-wood into the par-5 17th that set up a birdie and a par save from the front of the 18th green, giving him 2-under 69.
Haas kept his wits even after hearing the ground-shaking roar after Mickelson’s birdie on the 18th from just off the green, followed by another big cheer when Keegan Bradley made his birdie putt to force a three-man playoff.
The last cheer was for Haas, who rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt across the 10th green to win the Northern Trust Open.
“To beat a guy like Keegan and also Phil – guys of their caliber – in a playoff is amazing, something I’ll never forget,” Haas said.
Even as he was walking into the media center Sunday, a reporter asked about his father, Jay Haas, a nine-time winner and Ryder Cup player.
Haas rarely gets through an interview without someone asking about his father, which he doesn’t mind, though the 29-year-old clearly is starting to come into his own.
“He’s starting to establish himself as a very, very good player,” said Billy Harmon, who doesn’t throw out compliments easily. “More than anything, he’s starting to believe. You don’t have to change anything with Bill. He just has to learn from experience, and he’s getting that now. He’s been in the hunt more often. He’s failed in the hunt; he’s succeeded in the hunt.”
What impressed Harmon is that Haas, who fought his swing, came through with his short game. While the 45-foot birdie putt will get the attention, it was made possible by an 80-foot chip from just short of the 18th on the first playoff hole to about three feet. It’s one of the hardest shots to get to the hole.
“He won with his short game,” Harmon said. “And he usually wins with his long game.”
It took Haas longer than he expected to get going, but the numbers are starting to add up. This is the third consecutive year Haas has won on the PGA Tour, one of the best gauges of a player moving up. He advanced to No. 12 in the world, and it was his fourth career win, a number that could be higher if not for playoff losses a year ago in the Bob Hope Classic and the Greenbrier Classic.
Five months ago, Haas won the Tour Championship and the $10 million prize for capturing the FedEx Cup.