Bill Haas made the long walk across a makeshift bridge and under the grandstands to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, high-fiving kids along the railing and raising his cap to thousands of fans who cheered as they saw him coming.
His victory Sunday in the AT&T National was even sweeter when he compared it with all the times he failed.
“As many times as I’ve choked and hit bad shots and I’ve been nervous and it hasn’t worked out I was feeling all those things today and to hit good, quality golf shots down the stretch is such a good feeling,” Haas said. “I wish I could explain it. It’s amazing.” His golf spoke volumes.
Haas pulled away from a crowd of contenders with three straight birdies, two good pars and one good hop. It led to a 5-under 66, giving him a three-shot win at Congressional over Roberto Castro and putting him into distinguished company on two levels.
Haas has won at least one PGA Tour event in each of the last four years, joining Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. And he kept the pedigree of champions at the AT&T National on a day when a half-dozen players were trying to win their first PGA Tour event. In the seven-year history of the tournament, Rose was the lowest-ranked player to win. He was No. 35 when he won at Aronimink in 2010. Haas started the week at No. 29.
Haas is honest to fault, which explains why he is too hard on himself. He talked about how he “threw up on myself” at Riviera when he lost a three-shot lead in the final round, and he twice used the word “choke” in describing past failures.
“That’s terrible to say that I choke’ and ‘I throw up on myself,’ but I’m just honest that I did that,” he said. “But go from there. How do you get better? Don’t do it again, you know? That’s my best statement. Just don’t do that again. Today, I didn’t do it. I think it makes it that much sweeter, too, when you can remember the times you stunk.”
He made only one bogey, making good on his pledge Saturday to clean up his card after a third round that included a triple bogey on the 11th hole.
As many as six players had a share of the lead at some point until Haas rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 8. Worried about a splotch of mud on his ball, he hit his approach to just inside 12 feet for birdie on the par-5 ninth, and then hit a 5-iron to 10 feet for another birdie on the 10th.
Haas led by at least two shots the entire back nine, though he never allowed himself to think about winning until he stood over a 3-foot par putt on the 18th hole and realized he had three putts to win.
“I just kept the ball in front of me,” Haas said. “Nothing too crazy.”
The 31-year-old won for the fifth time in his career, and this was the first one with Tiger Woods on the property not to play, but to hand out the trophy. Woods sat out this week with an elbow injury and won’t play again until the British Open, though he was impressed with what he saw.
“He played beautifully today,” Woods said. “He handled his business through the tougher stretch of holes and pulled away.”
Castro, part of a four-way tie for the lead at the start of the final round, made Haas work for it.
“He didn’t make any mistakes, and the birdies on 9 and 10 were big,” Castro said after his 69.
The other leaders fell away Andres Romero had a double bogey on the fourth hole and shot 75. James Driscoll didn’t make a birdie in his round of 74.
Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old from Texas who needs a win to become a PGA Tour member and be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs, started his day by holing out from a fairway bunker for eagle and chipping in for birdie to tie for the lead. He dropped a shot at No. 11 the hardest hole at Congressional about the time Haas was on his critical run of birdies. Spieth had a 69 and finished sixth, pushing his earnings for the year over $1.1 million.
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., closed with a 69, and finished eight shots back at 280 David Hearn of Brantford., Ont had a 71, to finish at 286. Ottawa’ Brad Fritsch had a 74, to wind up at 292.
Castro bogeyed the opening hole, and that was his only mistake. He was one shot out of the lead at the turn, couldn’t match birdies with Haas at the par-3 10th, and then stuck with him the rest of the day.
“It helped that Roberto played so well,” Haas said.
Haas, who finished on 12-under 272, never allowed himself to think about winning, even after he seized control around the turn. Congressional wouldn’t let him. Even though he made 15 birdies on the weekend, he remembered the triple bogey on the 11th hole Saturday that temporarily derailed him.
This time, he found the fairway, hit onto the green, took two putts for par and exhaled.
Haas saved par from a bunker on the par-3 13th with a 6-foot putt that swirled 360 degrees around the cup before falling, and then picked up an unlikely birdie on the 14th when his 9-iron was drifting toward a mound covered with shaggy rough to the right of the green. It hopped off the mound to about 10 feet, and he went from a possible bogey to a birdie when he made the putt.
He made one more birdie with a wedge that checked up a foot from hole on the par-5 16th, and Haas was on his way.
The biggest struggle after that was hoisting the silver trophy of the U.S. Capitol over his head in the stifling heat of the closing ceremony on the 18th green.
Haas was still smarting over losing a three-shot lead in the final round at Riviera, making five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He had the 36-hole lead at the Memorial until a 76-71 weekend.
He was solid on Sunday at Congressional, and the win moved him to No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings with the playoffs about two months away. That’s important to Haas, who won the FedEx Cup in 2011 and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship last year.