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On & Off the Course

October 2, 2011

ON AND OFF THE COURSE: The shot heard round the world

TERRE HAUTE — I don’t know if the Golf Channel will show a “Best Shots of 2011” highlight reel, much like ESPN does for baseball or football. But if it does, I know what shot I would pick to be the best shot of the year. Not only was it a great shot from an unusual lie, it ended up being the $10 million shot of the year too!

In the second playoff hole of the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola last Sunday at East Lake Golf Club near Atlanta, Bill Haas played too aggressively in his approach out of a sand bunker, going for the pin, and his ball hit the green but rolled down the steep bank and settled in shallow water at the edge of the water hazard. The water was low in the hazard, so there was about two feet of a mud embankment that ordinarily wouldn’t have been there, and although his ball was in the water, it was mostly out of the water, so he could get a club on it. Instead of having to take a penalty shot from the hazard, his ball was playable — at least if you’re a touring professional! Not the kind of shot I’d want to try. However, for Bill Haas, and apparently Johnny Miller, who was one of the announcers, it was a piece of cake.

Johnny kept saying that if he played it like a sand shot, the ball would fly up high and land on the green. And that’s just what Bill Haas did; only the ball got some spin and actually bit, and stayed within three feet of the pin. So now, Hunter Mahan, who was the other contender in the playoff, had pressure to make his 20-foot putt to win the playoff, instead of a lackadaisical two-putt that moments earlier he thought he’d have to make. Instead of making it, he two-putted, then Haas holed his putt. The playoff moved on to the 18th hole, where Haas made par and Mahan bogeyed, thereby making Haas the winner of the Tour Championship, which was worth $1.4 million, plus $10 million for the FedEx Cup bonus. Not only that, but his showing caused Fred Couples to pick Haas for this year’s President’s Cup team. Not a bad day for a touring pro who hadn’t had a win all year.

So after Fred Couples picked Bill Haas, and the International team captain Greg Norman chose Australians Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddely, the teams are set for the President’s Cup, which will be played in Australia at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Nov. 17-20 this year.

Couples’ other captain’s pick was made back in August, when Couples announced publicly that Tiger Woods would be one of his picks. At the time the team standings closed, Woods was 29th on the list. Tiger’s last PGA Tour victory was in September 2009 at the BMW Championship. Woods does have a great record in the President’s Cup, going 5-0-0 in 2009, and overall holds the record for the most matches won at 18. However, his showings in some of the Ryder Cups have been less than stellar. Since Fred picked Tiger so early, perhaps he gave Tiger enough time to work on his game to be prepared for the matches, at least I hope so!

For the International team, there will be five Australians on the team, giving the home team a resounding advantage in the crowd-noise category. Those players are Jason Day, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley. The rest of the players are K.J. Choi, Kyung-tae Kim, and Y.E. Yang from Korea, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els from South Africa, and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan. That looks like a very formidable lineup, especially when you add in the home-field advantage.

For the United States, the players that made the team on points are Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, David Toms, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk. The captain’s assistants are Jay Haas and Michael Jordan. With Jay Haas already being with the team, it just makes Bill Haas’ shot in the Tour Championship all the more special.

2011 will be the ninth time The Presidents Cup has been played. The United States has had six wins, the International team one win, and there was one tie. The tie occurred in 2003, when the competition was in South Africa, and Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were captains. After regulation play, the teams were tied at 17 points apiece, and two players were chosen to represent their teams in a sudden-death playoff. After three playoff holes, with darkness descending, the two captains decided the teams would share the cup.

The only time the International team has won was in 1998, when the matches were played at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the same location as this year’s event.

Quote of the Day — “Did I win the FedEx Cup?” - Bill Haas to his wife, who didn’t know he had also won the FedEx Cup until the awards presentation after he won the Tour Championship.

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