By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Bill Haas isn't one to live in the past.
Of course, he'll always remember seeing the 45-foot birdie putt that he was just trying to get close drop decisively into the cup. When Phil Mickelson couldn't hole his bunker shot and Keegan Bradley missed a 15-footer to tie, Haas had earned the fourth title of his career in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open.
"I mean, how many times have I three-putted from 40 feet? Plenty of times," Haas said on Wednesday as he marveled at the memory. "... For it to go in, something I'll never forget, and playing that hole, certainly it's a good feeling."
As luck would have it, Haas tees off on that same 10th hole at 10:11 a.m. ET in the first round of his title defense -- playing with Mickelson and Bradley, no less. And if he should bogey? Well, let's just say he won't be dwelling on the past anymore.
"It's what have you done for me lately in this game," Haas said with a smile.
And lately, Haas has been playing quite well. He returns to Riviera on the heels of top-10 finishes at the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open. The 30-year-old has got some momentum, and he'd like nothing better than to carry it through the year, as well as this week.
That's something Haas learned he needs to do better after last year's playoff win at Riviera.
In his next 15 starts, the former Wake Forest All-American only had one more top-10 finish, a tie for seventh at the Wyndham Championship. He went into the BMW Championship, the penultimate event in the FedExCup Playoffs, ranked No. 28 and when he closed with a 78 there the reigning FedExCup champ was eliminated from the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
To say Haas was extremely disappointed not to get the chance to defend his title probably would have been an understatement. At the same time, though, it was a motivating factor for 2013.
"Obviously my goal last year was to make it back to THE TOUR Championship, and had such a nice start here on the West Coast," Haas said. "To basically fail at that in the Playoffs; I got a way from the game a little bit, took a break. And I went and played overseas a couple of events and felt like I was, okay, you can still play this game, you're not terrible and all the things that I was telling myself.
"Just had some motivation from those events overseas and really just wanted to start the year off nice. ... This is a great week to hopefully have everything start clicking."
Some players might have headed to the nearest sports psychologist for an attitude adjustment after the disappointing finish at Crooked Stick. But Haas sought the counsel of his father, Jay, who won nine times on the PGA TOUR and has another 16 titles on the Champions Tour, and instructor Billy Harmon, a long-time family friend.
"(My dad) always tells me what you're feeling now I've felt 10 times that and you're going to feel it again in the future," Haas said. "If it's a sports psychologist telling me that I'm like, well, how do you know?
"... There's other guys they can tell me what they think but they don't care. And my dad I know loves me and cares about me and knows how I'm feeling."
Haas said his father's advice wasn't technical -- after all, the son has proven he can play with the best. But patience and maintaining a positive outlook is key to shaking off the occasional bogey and moving forward in the game.
"I think more than anything he wants me to conduct myself better at certain times -- body language, emotions, just control them better," Haas said. "... It's something I'm working on/just doing it."
And focused on getting better every week.