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T.J.'s Take: Haas settles score with Oak Hill
Under cloudless blue skies, 54-year-old Jay Haas shot what might just be the most memorable over-par round of his career. That beautiful, glimmering hot potato was his after a 4-over-par 74 in the final round. It was Haas' second Senior PGA Championship win in three years and his second major overall (his first was at Oak Tree Golf Club in 2006).
Haas' winning total of 7-over-par 287 was the highest winning score in relation to par in the 72-hole history of the Senior PGA Championship, which started with Gene Sarazen's win in 1958. It also made Haas the 13th multiple winner of the championship.
"The first time I won it I was pretty amazed at my emotion and what it meant to me," Haas said. "This one, I thought that one was awfully sweet, but I think this one is definitely better. Just knowing how much fun it was and what it meant to me the last time to do it again on this great golf course is to have my name on that trophy again, alongside some of the great champions of the game is something that I can take with me for a long time."
Fifty-four-hole leader Bernhard Langer shot a 6-over 76 on Sunday and finished alone in second at 8 over par, while Scott Hoch, Joey Sindelar and Scott Simpson tied for third at 9 over.
The win, in a way, was redemption for Haas. In the 1995 Ryder Cup here at Oak Hill, he was 3 down to Irishman Philip Walton with three holes to play in the Sunday singles matches. After a miraculous hole-out for birdie from the sand at No. 16, Haas was 2 down. He also won the 17th hole, forcing the match to go the distance with the Ryder Cup hanging in the balance.
That's when Haas succumbed to the pressure. His drive on No. 18 was a pop fly that sailed into the left rough. End of rally, end of match, a win for the Europeans.
Haas' fate on No. 18 was far different on Sunday. He busted a perfect drive down the left side of the fairway, hit a masterful approach with a 6-iron about 15 feet left of the pin and two-putted for par and the win.
"If I could have played those two shots in 1995 maybe I wouldn't have played them today," Haas said. "I don't know. If I had, we probably would have won the cup that year or we would have tied it or halved it or whatever.
"I was thinking about it. I was thinking that I was trying to get to 18 with a three- or four-shot lead so I wouldn't have to think about it," he said. "I think this might make it even sweeter, the fact that I just had a one-shot lead. To hit that [approach] shot, that 6-iron, you know, I can't hit it any better, I don't think. I wanted to stay left. I hit it pretty much right where I was aiming the ball."
Langer started the final round with a one-shot lead over Haas and Rochester native Jeff Sluman, but quickly relinquished his advantage with a double bogey on the first hole after an errant tee shot and an approach that found the creek that guards the green.
Langer followed that with bogeys on Nos. 3, 4, 7 and 8 for a 6-over 41 on the front.
"I just got off to a very rough start," Langer said. "I hit some bad shots and got some bad breaks and just didn't feel too good. Probably had too much lunch or something. I couldn't focus. Then eventually I got it back to what I am capable of playing and I tried to give it a run on the back nine and came close, but no cigar."
When Haas made the turn, he had a four-shot lead at 4 over par, but it was far from a Sunday stroll in the park on Oak Hill's devastating closing nine. He made bogey on No. 11 with a three-putt from 35 feet and also had bogeys on Nos. 13 and 17 when he failed to get up and down.
"I knew it was going to be tough," Haas said. "I didn't think I could make two more bogeys and win the tournament. My mindset was I thought that I could make two more birdies somewhere, just give myself an opportunity to make two more birdies and then even if I did make a couple bogeys, 5 over was going to win the tournament. I just felt that. I didn't feel that those guys were going to come back. If they could play even par coming in, 7 [over] was the nearest at the time."
Making his first start on the Champions Tour since 2005, Greg Norman made a late Sunday charge with four birdies in five holes on the back nine. Through 16 holes, the Great White Shark was at 7 over par, but unraveled with a double bogey at No. 17 and a bogey at No. 18 to finish three shots behind Haas at 10 over par and in a tie for sixth with Don Pooley and Ron Streck.
"Not feeling very good right now, I can tell you that," Norman said. "But I think that when I made birdie on 15, 16, I thought then -- I always thought I was too far behind the leaders and it didn't make any difference. But it was nice to a point, right up until 17 and 18."
Haas leaves Oak Hill with his 11th Champions Tour win overall -- his first in 2008 -- and that 1995 Ryder Cup as a distant memory.
"Right at this moment I can't imagine [another place I'd rather win]," he said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Craig Harmon, I gave him grief all week. He said the rough was two inches. I don't know when. Maybe in March or something. The beginning of last week maybe it was two inches, but I put my hand down in the rough one time and the grass came up to my thumb. You know, it was four or five inches in spots. -- Jay Haas, convinced that the rough was deeper than his good friend and Oak Hill PGA Head Professional Craig Harmon let on
ROUND OF THE DAY: The 2-under-par 68 by John Ross. It might be overlooked seeing as Ross finished in a tie for 34th place, but his 68 was the best of the bunch on Sunday, where there were only three sub-par rounds.
"Well, after shooting 40 and 41 and 41 on the front nine the first three days, my caddie and I had a little joke we were going to go out and break 40 today," said Ross, a 56-year-old from Freeman, West Virginia. "I shot even par on the front, only had one bogey and that was a three-putt on 7. So I knew I was playing well. And I played the back nine well all week.
"There was less wind today. But then again the characteristics of this golf course don't change, you got to put the ball in the fairway," he added. "And I made a couple of good par saves on the last couple holes. But I missed a couple of 6-foot birdie putts early in the round, too. I'm not by any means going to complain after shooting 68 here. It leaves a good taste in my mouth. I have a lot of respect for this golf course. Donald Ross, I love his designs and to see how this course has withstood the time and technology, it's a beauty."
SHOT OF THE DAY: Bill Britton's fourth shot on the par-5 fourth hole. Britton, a PGA Club Professional, chipped in for birdie from about 50 feet away.
With a four-day total of 14-over-par 294, Britton took low-PGA Club Professional honors. Whether he had accomplished that feat or not, Sunday still would have been special for the 52-year-old Britton, who celebrated his 22nd wedding anniversary.
EASIEST HOLE: The 323-yard, par-4 14th hole. It played to an average score of 4.036. Seventeen players made birdie, 47 made par and 20 made bogey.
MOST DIFFICULT HOLE: The 460-yard, par-4 17th. The hole played to a scoring average of 4.607 -- more than a half-stroke over par. Only three birdies were made on Sunday. Thirty-four players made par, 41 made bogey, five took double bogey and there was one triple bogey.