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In year full of epic moments, honor goes to Haas

Bill Haas saved his FedExCup hopes with an all-world up-and-down on the 17th hole at East Lake.

Bill Haas knew he was facing an "all or nothing" moment when he got to his half-submerged ball during a playoff against Hunter Mahan at THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola. "If I don't pull it off," Haas said, "I'm shaking Hunter's hand."

But Haas did pull it off, splashing the ball within 3 feet for par at East Lake's 17th hole, which enabled him to win the tournament -- and the FedExCup -- on the next hole. Add in the $10 million FedExCup bonus, Haas wheel-barrowed a way with $11.44 million. Had the ball, say, rolled into deeper water, he would have earned almost $10 million less ($1.464 million -- $600,000 for finishing eighth in the FedExCup and $864,000 as the runner-up).

But this wasn't just about the money. The victory not only enabled Haas to join Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk -- as the only winners in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, it also earned him a spot on his first U.S. Presidents Cup team, being selected by captain Fred Couples two days later.

It was most dramatic finish in the five-year history of the FedExCup and should be remembered as perhaps the top moment of the 2011 PGA TOUR season.

Not that there weren't plenty to choose from, with most running the resiliency theme. Not surprisingly, the majors produced the most drama.

At the Masters, Rory McIlroy seemed poised for his breakthrough moment when the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland took a four-shot lead into the final round. But McIlroy proved the adage about the championship not really starting until the final nine holes. It took McIlroy a whopping 43 shots to play those nine holes, allowing South African Charl Schwartzel an opportunity to win, which he seized by becoming the first champion to birdie the final four holes.

Some wondered how long it would take McIlroy to recover from the monumental collapse at such a tender age. Turns out, it was 70 days. The same guy who couldn't finish at Augusta National toyed with the field while winning the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club by eight shots.

A month later, the player who helped mentor a young McIlroy got to celebrate his own first major championship -- at 42, no less. Darren Clarke, also from Northern Ireland, became one of the most popular winners of a major in decades when he earned the Claret Jug at Royal St. George's. Clarke, who lost his wife Heather to breast cancer six years ago, had not won in 53 previous appearances in majors and his last PGA TOUR victory was in 2003.

Schwartzel, McIlroy and Clarke were all represented by agent Chubby Chandler, but the talk of a so-called "Chubby Slam" ended when 25-year-old TOUR rookie Keegan Bradley overcame a late five-shot deficit to beat Jason Dufner in a playoff at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. Bradley's jubilant reaction when he holed a long birdie putt at the 71st hole remains one of the year's defining moments.

There were plenty of memorable scenes outside the majors. How about when comedian Bill Murray finally won the Pro-Am portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am? Partnered with tournament winner D.A. Points, it was Murray's greatest success in golf since he starred in the movie "Caddyshack," and he celebrated en route to the victory in his usual, unusual fashion -- by tossing a young girl into a bunker during the final round.

Speaking of theatre, 61-year-old Hall of Famer Tom Watson provided his own scene-stealer with his hole-in-one at the British Open, a major he came so close to winning for the sixth time two year ago when he lost in a playoff. Watson, ever the thesbian, took a bow afterward.

In an even more dramatic moment, Steve Stricker pulled off possibly the most difficult, high-pressured shot of the year at the John Deere Classic. With the ball well below his feet in a fairway bunker on the 18th hole, Stricker had to hit a 6-iron to a green protected by water, knowing he needed a par to make a playoff. He somehow hit a rope-hook that cleared the water and rolled over the back of the green. He then rolled in the 25-foot putt for the clutch finish and his third consecutive title in the event.

There were also plenty of tense moments when Bryce Molder and Briny Baird squared off in a playoff at the Frys.com Open. The two had combined to make 477 starts on the PGA TOUR without a win, so it was only fitting this playoff was stretched to six holes before Molder finally broke through with a 6-foot birdie putt.

But this was a TOUR season that truly was good to the last drop, evidenced by Sunday's drama when Luke Donald shot a final-round 63 to win ... let's see: 1. The Children Miracle Hospital Network Classic (his first TOUR stroke-play win since 2006); 2. The money title (by $335,861 over Webb Simpson); and 3. Quite possibly, Player of the Year honors.

Photo by Goofyfootgolf

 Craig Dolch, PGATOUR

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