There were two tournaments going on concurrently at the sun-splashed Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif. The first was the Humana itself, in which Bill Haas shot a 5-under 67 to reach 22 under and the top of a bunched leaderboard. There were 18 players within two of the lead early on Sunday, including two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, who had held a share of the 54-hole lead for the first time.
Compton (70) and the others couldn’t keep pace as Haas, the 2011 FedEx Cup champion, made four birdies, an eagle and a lone bogey on Sunday for his sixth Tour win, two of which have come at the Humana.
The other tournament was the jockeying for tickets to the Super Bowl, which will kick off in Glendale, Ariz., hours after the completion of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Brendan Steele, who made a late charge with a final-round 64 in La Quinta to tie for second with four others, wound up a winner both ways. His pal and devoted Boston sports fan Keegan Bradley ran into an old pro-am acquaintance last week — an individual who is also tight with Patriots owner Bob Kraft. The friend got Bradley four tickets near the 50-yard line, lower bowl, Patriots’ side, at University of Phoenix Stadium. Face value: $1,700 apiece.
“Hopefully one of us is raising the [WMPO] trophy,” said Steele, who will attend the Super Bowl with his wife, Anastassia. (Bradley will bring girlfriend Jillian Stacey.) “So that may throw a kink into things [in terms of being on time for the kickoff], but we’ll deal with that when it comes. You can’t pass it up. I don’t have a rooting interest, but Keegan is such a Patriots fan that it’ll be fun to cheer with him. And my wife likes Tom Brady. I’ve never been to an NFL game.”
“Oh, we’re paying for them,” said Bradley, who was 48th at the Humana, “but they’re good seats. I wasn’t going to go if I was going to be sitting in the nosebleeds. I grew up watching this team.”
The Humana marked the 2015 debut of Phil Mickelson, who, having dropped somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds, showed up in the desert looking fitter than he was during his winless 2014. He was also sharp, the result of his work with coach Butch Harmon in the off-season. After firing an opening-round 71 and spinning his wheels for 13 holes in round two, Mickelson, 44, came alive with five straight birdies for a 66. A pair of 68s on the weekend left him at 15 under, well back but with something to build on. He’ll play in Phoenix, but will not attend the Super Bowl. “I don’t have that strong desire,” he said, “now that I’ve done it a number of times.”
Lefty’s was hardly the most jarring off-season transformation. That honor went to Jason Dufner, who rid his body of inflammation and dropped 20 pounds by cutting gluten, sugar and processed foods from his diet. So transformed is the formerly penguin-shaped Dufner that last week he took on the role of Humana’s Well Being Ambassador — not bad for a guy who once was the Tour’s de facto fried mozzarella sticks ambassador.
“Not being able to play golf,” Dufner said of the impetus for his weight loss. “If I didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to be able to play, so it was pretty simple for me. Didn’t really have a choice. I haven’t felt good for two or three years, and it kind of came to a head last year [when he also suffered from neck and shoulder pain]. I couldn’t play. I missed the playoffs, missed the defense of my PGA Championship, more than likely missed playing in the Ryder Cup because of it.” Dufner missed the cut at the Humana, but he heads to Phoenix coming off of rounds of 65 and 69.
Haas was wildly underconfident entering the week. Last April, at his rental house at Hilton Head, he was rushing to his sick son in the middle of the night when he slipped down a flight of stairs and fractured his left wrist. He withdrew, didn’t win in 2014, and in his most recent start, at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November, hit just 11 greens in regulation all weekend. “It was awful,” said Haas, a member at Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells, near PGA West. “If you would have told me I’d have done this last week I would have laughed at you.”
A timely tip from his coach, Bill Harmon, and father, Jay — they told him to square up his club at takeaway — and a hot putter cured everything. It was his first win since the 2013 Quicken Loans National. Now it’s on to Scottsdale, where many will have one eye on Glendale and getting to the game by kickoff. But not Haas. “I’d rather watch it on TV,” he said.
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