The Northern Trust Open provided the type of storybook drama that is usually reserved for major championships. Bill Haas defeated Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson by sinking a 45-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole at Riviera.
Haas shot 69 in the final round to finish seven under par. Mickelson and Bradley both shot even par 71 respectfully.
It had seemed unlikely that a playoff would occur heading to the tough par-four 18th hole. Haas held a one-shot advantage and was in the club house, while Mickelson and Bradley had both failed to birdie the par-five 17th. However, magic would occur on the 18th green that was packed with fans on the natural amphitheater that overlooks it.
Mickelson and Bradley both hit perfect drives that split the fairway. Mickelson's approach found the green, but was well right of the back hole location. Bradley hit his second much closer and pin high, but still faced a tricky putt with much break.
Mickelson had been struggling with his putter all day and had narrowly missed birdie on the previous hole. Only six players in the field had birdied the 18th hole during the round. Yet he stepped up and sunk his 25-foot putt sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Bradley was able to match him by sinking his 12-foot putt and the two shared an emphatic high-five while the crowd went bonkers.
Only six players had made birdie on the 18th hole that day. Mickelson and Bradley both accomplishing this feat was nearly impossible. The stage was set for an epic playoff.
The characters were compelling: Mickelson, the Hall of Famer going for two straight victories and his third at Riviera. Keegan Bradley, who Mickelson has mentored,the last man to win a major and the nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley. Finally Bill Haas, the reigning FedEx Cup Champion and son of PGA Tour pro Jay Haas.
The stage provided by Riviera was up to the task. The 18th hole would be replayed and the ninth would follow. One of the best closing holes in golf and the best short par-four in golf is hard to match.
All three managed to hit the fairway on the first playoff hole, avoiding a likely fatal mistake early. Bradley provided the drama as he set himself up for another makeable birdie putt.
Haas was short of the green, but had a simple up and down, Mickelson had a lengthy shot at birdie. Bradley thought he had made his putt, but it just slid by. The three all made par.
The short but difficult ninth has a multitude of options from off the tee. The difficulty lies in the extremely narrow and sloping green. Put your tee shot in the wrong spot and you have a near impossible angle to hold the green on approach.
All three made mistakes off the tee. Bradley and Mickelson put their shots too far right, leaving them no green to work with. Haas hooked his tee shot. He still would be able to get on the green, but not attack the pin.
Mickelson attempted his famous flop shot. Many times it has gotten him out of seemingly impossible situations. The stage was set for a classic Mickelson moment, but it was not to be. The shot landed just a bit too far from the front of the green and trickled into the back bunker.
Bradley was faced with a bad lie in the front bunker and hit a near perfect shot that managed to hold the fringe.
Haas played the safe move, pitching onto the large portion of the green and leaving 45 feet for birdie.
All men lied three, Mickelson in the bunker, Bradley on the fringe and Haas a country mile away, but on the green.
Haas played his third shot first, and remarkably sank the putt. Mickelson was not able to hole his bunker shot and was out. Bradley saw his putt miss by the slimmest of margins again, giving Haas the win.
Haas again pulled out the impossible as he did with his water shot at the Tour Championship. His win fit the character he has established as a golfer. Had Mickelson or Bradley won this would have been true as well. Mickelson missing short putts, but ultimately rallying by sinking long ones. Bradley working his way into a playoff after being written off as he did at the PGA Championship.
They all had the chance to win in a matter fitting of their own game. Haas was the one who did. They played on a course that was major championship caliber.
Finally, it was a generational clash. Haas is a 29-year-old in his prime with seven years on tour. Bradley at only 25 in his second PGA Tour season. And of course 41-year-old Mickelson, who won his first PGA Tour event in 1991.
The combination of these factors made for a tournament story that few others can match.