Plucky challengers like Spieth, Castro and Lee had a chance, but Bill Haas withstood them all
The famed French thinker Albert Camus once said, "You cannot create experience. You must undergo it."
Such was the story this week at Congressional Country Club. With twelve holes remaining for the leaders to play, there were eight players within two strokes of the lead. Only three of them had ever won a PGA Tour event. Four of them were 28 or younger. One doesn't even turn twenty until next month.
At that time, Jordan Spieth was tied for the lead. An energetic Texan who flipped the tables on adoring young fans by offering high fives before they could even reach across the ropes, Spieth was the star of the show all week. On Friday, he surged up the leaderboard in a performance that saw him hit all 18 greens. Sunday, he opened with a 127-yard hole out from the bunker on No. 1. Playing Sunday in Texas Longhorn burnt orange, his swagger was infectious -- it was the talk of the crowds -- and he fast rose from sponsor's exemptee to crowd favorite.
But, "you cannot create experience. You must undergo it." The young Spieth had a costly mental lapse on the eighth hole Saturday that resulted in a double bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course. He began muttering after missed putts, afraid to keep it on the high side. He admitted to feeling a bit nervous right around the turn, and said he learned a lot this week about keeping his focus after bogeys. For a kid who showed flashes of brilliance, it all seemed to collapse painfully, and quickly. He shot a 74 Sunday to finish 6-under and in sixth place -- six off the lead.
D.H. (Dong-hwan) Lee entered Sunday tied for 20th and started his round before some of the leaders had even arrived at the driving range. By the time they had teed off, he was on the fifth hole and had cut the deficit in half. When he made the turn, he was just one shot behind. He made 21 birdies this week, six on the front nine this morning. While he was 51st this week in driving distance, he was first in putting distance and strokes gained.
But "you cannot create experience. You must undergo it." The former South Korean military serviceman fell off the pace after the turn on Saturday, making double bogey after a tee shot in the water on No. 10, which he followed with three more bogeys at Nos. 12, 15, and 18. It was obvious he let his emotions get the better of him, and also got caught on camera giving the middle finger. He later apologized, saying it was a moment of frustration directed at the ball and not the fans. After his round today, he added, "Everybody makes mistakes, and I made this mistake, and I'm just going to learn from this." He shot a tournament-low 64 Sunday to finish 8-under, good for third place.
After missing the cut last week at the Travelers Championship, Roberto Castro said he hadn't played poorly, but he hadn't been aggressive. He came into this week promising he wouldn't let that happen again, and he didn't. He was 12th in proximity to the pin, far better than his season rank of 36th. He played a consistent game, making 50 pars and just one score larger than a bogey. His signature highlight of the tournament, and perhaps of his career, came yesterday at No. 18 where he pitched in from 80 feet away to save par and a share of the lead after dunking his approach shot in the hazard.
But even for Castro, who seems to have surely learned from relinquishing a three-stroke Friday lead at The Players and tumbling off the leaderboard at the Humana Challenge after being tied for second on Sunday, "you cannot create experience. You must undergo it." He opened Sunday with a bogey -- driving the ball into a fairway bunker and finding a greenside trap from there -- and was playing catch-up almost the entire way forward. He didn't make another bogey, but playing in the final group, his slow-and-steady game just didn't cut it while others had their feet on the gas. He shot even-par 71 today to finish 9-under and in second place-three off the lead.
There were others too, like Andres Romero and James Driscoll and Jason Kokrak. But then there was Bill Haas, the one guy who just seemed to have everything that it takes to win at a course as tough as Congressional.
Bill Haas, the guy who hacked out of the lake to save par and extend a playoff with Hunter Mahan to win the 2011 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup.
Bill Haas, son of a nine-time PGA Tour winner, and now a proud father of one month old William -- a life-changing development he says keeps things in perspective and allows him to stand over the ball and say "you get to go home and see William this week. This drive is not that big of a deal."
Bill Haas, whose seven top-10 finishes this year have taught him "you're going to be nervous. Try to enjoy being nervous."
Bill Haas, who beat major champions Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson in a playoff at Riviera in 2012.
Bill Haas, who "threw up on [him]self" with a three-shot final round lead defending his title this year at Riviera, and has not allowed himself forget it since.
Bill Haas, who was able to bounce back from a nightmarish triple bogey at No. 11 yesterday with birdies on three of the next four holes.
Bill Haas -- calm, cool, and collected -- whose foremost focus was "stay[ing] focused on the task at hand, stay[ing] patient. Life is good, all that cliché stuff. No matter what happens, just keep plugging along."
Bill Haas, who didn't let himself caught up in his three-stroke lead ... even on the 18th green where he had three putts to win from three feet and was still shaking.
Bill Haas, who Tiger Woods noted "handled his business through the tougher stretch of holes and pulled away."
Bill Haas, who, among a leaderboard of strong, young, and talented golfers, a few of whom seem destined to get the PGA Tour victory monkey off their back before long, had what it took to win at one of the toughest courses on the pro circuit.
"You cannot create experience. You must undergo it."