LA QUINTA, Calif. – Bill Haas has a stellar record at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, and the California desert is the site of an annual trip that helps rekindle his love for the game.
He didn’t expect a victory at this year’s Humana, though.
“If you would have told me I would have done this last week, I would have laughed at you,” he said.
A 67 on Sunday gave him a one-shot victory over five players, though. Haas, the 2010 Humana champion, finished at 22-under 266 to earn his sixth career PGA TOUR title, and first since the 2013 Quicken Loans National.
Charley Hoffman, Brendan Steele, Sung Joon Park, Steve Wheatcroft and Matt Kuchar all tied for second. The runner-up finish was a career-best for Park and Wheatcroft.
Haas said he’s not one to tear up the turf on the practice range during the offseason, but he took it especially easy after the World Golf Champions-HSBC Champions in November to let a fracture in his left wrist heal.
He injured the wrist at the RBC Heritage in April, but was able to play the remainder of the season. Doctors advised him that extended rest would eventually be needed for the injury to heal. After a dismal showing at the HSBC Champions – he said he hit just 11 greens in regulation over the final 36 holes – he decided to take that time off.
CALL OF THE DAY
Haas arrived in the California desert last week for his annual tune-up with his father Jay and instructor Billy Harmon. That time isn’t just about getting his technique on track. It also increases his enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
“Playing golf with somebody you look up to like my dad and Billy, and working on your game, but also just having fun definitely gets you (thinking), ‘Let’s just go have fun, let’s go play good golf,’” Haas said.
In addition to his 2010 win, Haas also finished second at the 2011 Humana and sixth last year. He told his wife before the tournament that he didn’t think he’d be in contention this year, though.
“I was certainly feeling the pressure and I didn’t feel sharp coming into this week,” Haas said. He was tied for the 54-hole lead, though, with Erik Compton and Justin Thomas.
Haas shot 3-under 33 on Sunday’s front nine, including an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole, to take a one-shot lead entering the back nine. Six players were one shot back, though. Haas regained the lead with a birdie at the par-4 16th.
He had a one-shot lead when arrived at the 18th hole. The short par-5 is easily reachable in two shots, but his final hole didn’t lack drama. He pushed his tee shot, and the ball came to rest at the edge of a fairway bunker. The ball was about waist-high when he took his stance inside the bunker. He debated hitting the shot left-handed or whacking it backwards while facing toward the tee. He eventually decided to take a baseball swing at it, advancing it far enough down the fairway to leave himself an 8-iron for his third shot. He hit the green and two-putted for par.
“I came out here and worked hard, so I was doing my best to be sharp, but … to start the week and then on Sunday somewhat execute down the stretch is a great feeling,” Haas said.
KUCHAR CLOSE AGAIN: Matt Kuchar had another close call at the Humana Challenge. The closing holes may have kept him from collecting his first victory in the Coachella Valley.
Kuchar was one shot behind Haas when he played the 18th hole Sunday. The seven-time TOUR winner couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie on the reachable par-5. He said, “Oh no,” as soon as he hit his chip shot, which finished 11 feet short of the hole.
“I think it was a little into the grain. … I had a good putt and it slid by the edge,” Kuchar said. “It was pretty disappointing to be that close and not at least birdie the 18th to make Bill try to make birdie to win.”
This was Kuchar’s sixth consecutive top-25 at this event. He also finished second in 2010, one shot behind Haas.
“The regret is not getting up-and-down from pin high on 18,” Kuchar said. “That was a tough one.”
Kuchar made bogey on three of his last four holes in the third round. He made bogey on both 17 and 18 after hitting a shot into the water on each hole.
He was bogey-free Sunday, making an eagle and three birdies. He made 3 at the par-5 sixth hole after chipping in from 40 feet.
This was Kuchar’s second consecutive top-three finish. He also tied for third at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
ROOKIE'S NEAR MISS: Justin Thomas tied Bill Haas for the lead with birdies at 14 and 15, but a miscue at the following hole kept the 21-year-old from collecting his first PGA TOUR victory.
An amped-up Thomas hit his 2-iron tee shot into a fairway bunker on No. 16. He caught his sand-wedge shot heavy, and his ball went into the canal short of the green. It led to double-bogey.
“I just nuked (the 2-iron),” he said. “Even in that bunker, I still should have been able to put that on the green. I just didn’t execute that shot well enough.”
He made birdie at the last to shoot 69 and finish T7, two shots behind Haas; it was Thomas’ third top-10 in his past four starts. The TOUR rookie is now 28th in the FedExCup.
This was the second consecutive week Thomas was in the final group on a weekend. He played in the final threesome in the third round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
“I feel a lot more confidence and I feel a lot more experienced,” Thomas said. “I know that I can win out here.”
Erik Compton, who joined Thomas and Haas in the final threesome, shot 70 and finished 10th. He started the day by sinking a 47-foot birdie and looked poised to make a second consecutive birdie after chipping close at the par-5 second hole. He missed the 5-footer, though, and missed a 6-footer for birdie at the sixth hole.
It wasn’t the putter that gave him the most trouble, though. He said he struggled with the driver all week, and called his final-round performance “pretty pathetic.”
“I had my chances early to make it happen,” he said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable most of the week with my driver. … I was lost with my driver. I depended on my short game all week.”
Bill Haas collects his 2nd title at Humana Challenge
HOME ADVANTAGE: Two Southern Californians, Brendan Steele and Charley Hoffman, were among the five players who tied for second, one shot behind Bill Haas at the Humana Challenge. Steele and Hoffman both shot 64 on Sunday to finish at 21-under 267.
Steele grew up in the small mountain town of Idyllwild, California, about an hour from La Quinta. He played junior golf in the Coachella Valley, carrying his bag in the desert’s 100-degree summer temperatures.
“A little less glamorous than this tournament,” he joked. He also attended the Humana as a kid and recalled watching his favorite player, Corey Pavin, in the mid-1990s. This runner-up finish was his best showing on TOUR since he won the 2011 Valero Texas Open as a rookie.
“You always want to play well, whether it is your home tournament or in Timbuktu, but definitely this one because I grew up coming here,” said Steele, who also went to college at nearby UC Riverside. “I have a lot of friends and family here.”
Hoffman’s Humana runner-up moved him to third in the FedExCup. He earned his third career TOUR title earlier this season at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
He earned his first TOUR victory at the 2007 Humana Challenge. His second win, at the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship, propelled him to a career-best fourth-place finish in the FedExCup. He hasn’t returned to the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola since.
Hoffman, who grew up in the San Diego suburb of Poway, got off to a good start in that quest.
“Improving on Sunday has been a goal of mine,” said Hoffman, who started the final round in 16th place. “Getting in position the first three rounds, and Sunday is a day to improve. And I did that today, which I’m happy about.”
This is the third consecutive year that Hoffman has shot 21-under 267 at the Humana. He's finished in the top 10 all three times.
Humana Challenge on the rocks
LEFTY SEES POSITIVES: Phil Mickelson made 26 birdies in his first start of 2015, tied for the most in the field. He also made 11 bogeys, though. He tied for 24th at the Humana Challenge, closing with three consecutive rounds of 68 or lower. It bested his finishes in three prior Humana appearances.
“I’ve got some things to improve on, but it was a good week to kind of build a foundation,” said Mickelson, who won the 2002 and 2004 Humanas. “I’m really excited for this upcoming year. I feel I’m ready to go, ready to get started. It was a good week this week, but some of the fine tuning needs to get just a little bit sharper.”
Mickelson finished at 15-under 273 after shooting 71-66-68-68. He’s heading to familiar territory, now. First is next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, near his alma mater, Arizona State, and then his hometown Farmers Insurance Open. He’s won each event three times.
ROUND 4 STATISTICAL LEADERS
Category Round 4 leader Statistic Weekly leader Statistic Strokes gained: tee-to-green Brendan Steele 5.97 Matt Jones 2.88 per round Driving distance Tony Finau 326 Tony Finau 319.9 Driving accuracy C. Knost, S. O'Hair, B. Weekley 92.3 percent Colt Knost 85.2 percent Greens in regulation L. Glover, A. Hadwin, M. Putnam,
S. Stefani, N. Watney
83.3 percent Kevin Na 80.6 percent Strokes gained: putting Sung Joon Park 4.3 Chad Collins 3.36 per round Putts per round James Hahn 22 Webb Simpson 24.8 Total birdies J. Hahn, C. Knost 9 P. Mickelson, R. Palmer,
W. Simpson, J. Thomas