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Haas overcomes trials, defies odds to earn Champ.

ATLANTA -- Bill Haas was grim-faced when he walked out of the scorer's trailer a week ago after closing with a 78 at the BMW Championship. A day that had dawned with such promise ended in utter disappointment as he tumbled out of that tie for third and ended up in a distant tie for 16th.

Haas wasn't much happier on Saturday at East Lake, either, after a bogey and a double bogey on his last two holes dropped him out of a share of the lead at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. But he still had a chance to win on Sunday, and Haas knew what he had to do in the final round.

"I just (told myself) to try to put yourself in that same situation and try to prove to yourself that you can handle it," he explained.

Haas did just that on Sunday at East Lake as he beat Hunter Mahan on the third hole of sudden death to win his third PGA TOUR event -- and the FedExCup, as well. Not that he knew he would also be getting the $10 million bonus, though, until he got to the awards ceremony and saw two trophies, one of crystal and another gleaming silver cup, then realized that he was the only player on the stage.

"I looked at my wife and she was kind of laughing and smiling and she nodded her head, yes," Haas said.

Haas, who started the week ranked 25th in the FedExCup standings, later said he didn't want to "sound ignorant." He knew there was a chance he could win both prizes after starting the final round just three strokes off the lead. At the same time, he knew that there were lots of scenarios that would affect the outcome and besides, Haas had enough to worry about with the tournament on the line.

"The back nine on Sunday, guys like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, they make it look like it's just a practice round sometimes, and I know in my head they don't feel that way, they're not relaxed, they're grinding, I get it," Haas said. "But I know what I'm feeling, and it's hard work and it's a grind. Your hands do shake, and it's not ... necessarily the prize, it's just because of winning the golf tournament and you not wanting to fumble down the stretch.

"I'm still learning when those moments come to grab them by the throat and embrace it as opposed to let it bother me. The more I play, I think I get better at that."

Haas certainly tried to put a stranglehold on the TOUR Championship itself when he built a three-stroke lead as he got up and down for birdie on the par-5 15th hole. Bogeys on two of his final three holes, though, tightened the race and Haas headed to the range when he finished off his 68 to await his fate.

Haas' father, Jay, a nine-time winner on the PGA TOUR, was there to offer some words of wisdom, just as he had been the previous night when the entire family, including Bill's brother and caddy, Jay Jr., -- who has "taken more lip from me the last month and a half than he ever deserves to," Haas said with a smile -- broke bread at an Atlanta pizza parlor. The sting of that bogey-double bogey finish on Saturday had been eased by their unwavering support.

"The people you need around you when you do that is your family, people that genuinely care and are genuinely pulling for you," explained Haas, adding that he tends to perform better when he knows his dad is in the gallery.

The partriach of the clan's words were simple. "I just said expect anything, be ready for anything, you've been playing well, trust your swing -- stuff that maybe he listened to," the proud father recalled with big smile. "I just tried to calm him down a little bit."

Good thing, too. First Aaron Baddeley had a chance to join Haas and Mahan at 8 under but he missed a lengthy birdie putt on the final hole. And Mahan, playing in the final group had to get up and down from behind the green on the par 3 finale to send the dual competitions into a playoff where Haas did his best Houdini imitation on the way to that $11.44 million check.

A 4-iron flew right into the crowd on the first extra hole but Haas salvaged par. Then the former Wake Forest All-American got up and down from the water beside the 17th green with what he called an "all-or-nothing shot" to extend the playoff. "If I don't pull it off, I'm shaking Hunter's hand," he later explained simply.

Mahan's bogey from the bunker the third time the two played the par-3 18th on Sunday put an end to the suspense. After Mahan missed his 14-footer to save par, Haas stood over a 4-footer to win the TOUR Championship -- and unbeknownst to him, the FedExCup. The ball fell soundly into the hole.

The win in his third playoff of 2011 could come with a less tangible -- but equally important -- benefit than the hefty deposit in his bank account, too. Haas's performance may have convinced Fred Couples to make him the last pick for the U.S. Presidents Cup team on Tuesday evening.

At least Haas will have 48 hours to enjoy this moment and maybe think about how much of the bonus to spend on that new house he and his wife Julie want to build. It was clearly something he'll never forget.

"My hands were shaking in regulation, in the playoff, that last putt there," Haas recalled. "I don't know how far it was, it looked like 12 feet, it was probably 4. When I hit it, looked like it came off right where I wanted it to, and pretty cool feeling. I've played 170 something tournaments probably, and this is my third win, so it makes all of them so special. This is pretty cool."

Photo by PGA TOUR

Helen Ross, PGATOUR

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