Haas handles the pressure, hangs on to claim the AT&T National

Haas handles the pressure, hangs on to claim the AT&T National
June 30, 2013, 6:30 pm
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Haas: "I just tried to stay in the moment."

A day earlier, Bill Haas made triple bogey on No. 11. But as the pressure mounted Sunday, he did precisely what the situation demanded on Congressional Country Club’s toughest hole: he took a deep breath, thought positive thoughts and made par. 

From there, Haas cruised to victory at the AT&T National, carding a 5-under par 66 that featured six birdies and one bogey. He finished three strokes ahead of Roberto Castro and four clear of D.H. Lee and Jason Kokrak, who tied for third.

The win was Haas’ first of the season and the fifth of his nine-year professional career. He’s now claimed at least one PGA Tour victory in each of the last four seasons and has seven top-10 finishes in 16 starts in 2013.

“Unbelievably special day,” said Haas, whose strong putting helped him lead the field with 25 birdies this week. “I can’t even tell you how good it feels. I was trying to keep my emotions in check out there. It’s so hard to do. You make a birdie, and you’re thinking,'Oh, I can win this thing.' And you have to somehow reel yourself back.”

After signing his scorecard, Haas returned to the 18th green, where he was presented with the tournament’s shimmering Capitol dome trophy by the host, Tiger Woods. 

“He played beautifully today,” Woods said. “He played well [Saturday], he just made a few mistakes. Today he cleaned it up. [Holes] 9, 10 and 11 were the tournament right there. He handled his business through the toughest stretch of holes and pulled away.”

Woods, once again, expressed regret about missing the event with an elbow strain. It’s the third time in six years he’s been forced to skip his own tournament due to injury.

“It was tough,” he said. “And given the conditions, I kind of liked the way the course was set up, too. I’ve played well here and I was defending. All in all, it was a tough week from that standpoint but a great week from the [Tiger Woods] Foundation’s standpoint.”

As Woods said, Haas put the tournament away during a clutch stretch in the middle four holes. The 31-year-old North Carolina native – and son of former PGA Tour player Jay Haas – birdied holes eight, nine and ten.

Then he stared down his nemesis – hole No. 11, the 489-yard, par-4 that consistently ranked as the Blue Course’s most difficult hole.

Twenty-four hours after carding a triple bogey there, Haas put his drive in the middle of the fairway.

“I feel like I could make a triple there any time I tee it up,” Haas said.  “It’s such a hard hole. [But] I hit a great drive, an even better 5-iron to the middle of the green and two-putted.”

He added: “I told myself, great par, but it’s not over yet. You can’t breathe a sigh of relief yet.”

Indeed, Castro was only two strokes back.

Both players birdied the par-4 14th, but Haas made sure there would be no late letdown. On No. 16, he hit a clutch approach shot from the first cut, putting the ball within a foot of the hole for birdie.

Even then, Haas wouldn’t allow himself to relax. He’s had far too many disappointments over the years.

“Walking aback to the 18th tee with a three shot lead, I could hear people saying, ‘Great week, Bill. Way to go,’” Hass said. “I just told myself, acknowledge them, but don’t let it get to you. It’s not over yet. If Roberto makes birdie and I make a double – and I’ve already made a triple this week – it could happen.”

But there was no drama on No. 18, where Haas cooly recorded his 11th par of the day.

“Even though this is [win] No. 5 out of, I think, 240 events, it’s hard to do,” Haas said. "It’s nice to be sitting here. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Chip shots

Woods’ goal is to return in time for next month’s British Open. He said he’ll “start the strengthening process” on his elbow this week and, barring a setback, will begin hitting balls soon thereafter. …There still have been no first-time Tour winners of the AT&T National. …Jordan Spieth, 19, made eagle on No. 1 but fizzled on the back nine. He finished sixth, notching his fifth top-10 finish of the season.