- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES | Bill Haas played alongside Phil Mickelson in what seemed like a one-sided affair outside the ropes, where chants of “Phil” chased after them in the cool air of the Pacific Ocean.

This was a year ago at Torrey Pines.

Among those in the gallery that day was Billy Harmon, the swing coach for Haas. The more famous Harmon is his older brother, Butch, though the family often jokes that’s only because Butch has better clients.

There was no friendly wager among them, though Billy Harmon said his brother told him, “I have more horses in the race.”

Along with Mickelson, Dustin Johnson was in the hunt that day and Nick Watney put together a late rally. Ultimately, Bubba Watson won the tournament.

A year later, Haas is starting to show he belongs in the stable of top American golfers.

Up the California coast, on a Riviera course that played the toughest of any PGA Tour event this year, Haas steadied himself after consecutive bogeys on the back nine with a 3-wood into the par-5 17th that set up a birdie and a par save from the front of the 18th green that gave him a 2-under 69.

Haas kept his wits even after hearing the ground-shaking roar of Mickelson’s birdie on the 18th from just off the green, followed by another big cheer when Keegan Bradley made his birdie putt to force a three-man playoff.

The last cheer was for Haas, who rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt across the 10th green to win the Northern Trust Open.

“To beat a guy like Keegan and also Phil - guys of their caliber - in a playoff is amazing, something I’ll never forget,” Haas said.

Even as he was walking into the media center late Sunday afternoon, a reporter asked him about his father, Jay Haas, a nine-time winner and Ryder Cup player.

Haas rarely gets through an interview without someone asking about his father, which he doesn’t mind, although the 29-year-old clearly is starting to come into his own.

“He’s starting to establish himself as a very, very good player,” said Billy Harmon, who doesn’t throw out compliments easily. “More than anything, he’s starting to believe. You don’t have to change anything with Bill. He just has to learn from experience, and he’s getting that now. He’s been in the hunt more often. He’s failed in the hunt, he’s succeeded in the hunt.”

What impressed Harmon about Riviera is that Haas, who fought his swing, came through with his short game. While the 45-foot birdie putt will get the attention, it was made possible by an 80-foot chip from just short of the 18th on the first playoff hole to about 3 feet. It’s one of the hardest shots to get to the hole.

“He won with his short game,” Harmon said. “And he usually wins with his long game.”

It took Haas longer than he expected to get going, but the numbers are starting to add up. It was the third straight year Haas has won on the PGA Tour, one of the best gauges of a player moving up. He advanced to No. 12 in the world, a ranking difficult to dispute.

And it was his fourth career win, a number that could be even higher if not for playoff losses a year ago in the Bob Hope Classic and the Greenbrier Classic.

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