This will be remembered as the year the FedEx Cup came into its own, into all of the glorious, nonsensical weirdness we could have hoped for when a bunch of math geeks were sent into a room, a little over five years ago, and told to come out with great theater.
The Tour Championship and FedEx Cup have always played out simultaneously, but it wasn't until Sunday that we realized just what we've created: a mad dash to the finish that is equal parts Powerball (utterly and deliciously random), game show, reality show (think "Big Break" on steroids) and traditional, four-round, medal-play golf tournament.
Bill Haas, who at 25th in the FedEx Cup standings thought he was too far back to have a chance at the $10 million first prize, won a wild, three-hole playoff with Hunter Mahan to rake in $11.44 million, golf's biggest payday of the year — by a mile. At the end of a desperate and confusing day, not even Haas knew what he'd done, as evidenced by his first question to NBC's Jimmy Roberts before the trophy ceremony: "Who won the FedEx Cup?"
The PGA Tour, finally, may have won. The Tour wanted all 30 players at the Tour Championship to have a chance at winning the $10 million FedEx bonanza, and the Tour tweaked the math until it got exactly that Sunday. Mahan was 21st in the standings and Haas was 25th, but they were playing for both the tournament and the Cup when four of the top five in FedEx Cup points failed to contend at East Lake. (Plucky, human-ATM Luke Donald tied for third place, to no one's surprise.)
Haas scrambled out of trouble on the first two playoff holes, including a recovery shot from the edge of a water hazard on the par-4 17th , where about a quarter of his golf ball was submerged. He opened up a sand wedge, blasted out to three feet and made the putt for par. It was the shot of the tournament, if not the year, during an afternoon that was again dominated by mathematical projections and general bewilderment.
The MacArthur Foundation last week selected 22 recipients for "genius awards" for achievements in the arts and sciences, but even a genius would have balked at calculating the combinations and permutations in play at East Lake, where everyone, it seemed, had a shot at $10 million.
"There's a lot of scenarios," NBC's Johnny Miller said. "You've got to graduate from MIT to figure it out."
Neither Haas nor Mahan had won a tournament in 2011. So how could the FedEx Cup, which rewards a player's "body of work" over the entire season, come down to those two? It didn't matter; the Cup becomes enjoyable the moment you stop trying to figure it out. Forget "These Guys Are Good." The mantra to remember in the FedEx Cup playoffs is "Just Go With It."
"The most exciting FedEx Cup finish we've had," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, to no argument.
Haas won the whole shebang with his brother on his bag and his father, Champions Tour pro Jay, and mother following the action on foot. He also hit what may go down as the shot of the year, given everything that was on the line. (Haas, of course, was also playing to earn a Presidents Cup wild-card pick.) On the second playoff hole Haas lost his drive right, into a fairway bunker. His approach looked terrific until it bounded over the green and into the water hazard left of the green. He looked finished when Mahan, who had hit the fairway, knocked his approach to about 25 feet behind the pin. Haas walked to his ball and found that it wasn't entirely submerged, so he splashed his third shot up and out of the hazard. He tapped in to push the playoff back to the 235-yard, par-3 18th, where he won with a par. "I got an unbelievably fortunate break," Haas said. "It's basically just a bunker down there in the [shallow] water."
Donald (69), K.J. Choi and Aaron Baddeley finished at seven under, a shot back, with Donald making a clutch birdie on 18 that he thought might have been enough to take home the $10 million. He will have to settle for another top 10, padding his lead atop the World Ranking, and a finish that might remain in voters' minds when it comes time to choose the player of the year.
Haas improved to 1-2 in playoffs after losses at the Bob Hope and the Greenbrier earlier this season, and he becomes a top candidate to be a captain's pick for the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Captain Fred Couples will announce his wild-card picks Tuesday, and he's already said that one will go to Tiger Woods. The choice will likely come down to Haas, whose father is an assistant captain for the U.S., or Keegan Bradley, the winner of two tournaments this year, including the PGA.
Mahan had lobbied for Bradley, but that was before Sunday. Steve Stricker, who had a cortisone shot in his neck before the Tour Championship and who has complained of weakness in his left arm, could bow out of the Presidents Cup, which would allow Couples to pick both Bradley and Haas.
Third-round leader Aaron Baddeley, who was playing to impress Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman and had made everything in sight through 54 holes, fell back with a final-round 72. Still, his showing is likely to be enough to get the nod from Norman, a fellow Australian. The way things fell for him Sunday, it's hard to imagine Haas not wearing the red, white and blue at Royal Melbourne in November, but even if by some strange twist of fate he isn't picked, he'll have won a whale of a consolation prize, or two prizes, worth more collectively than his dad's career earnings.
That's the FedEx Cup. Just go with it.