Bill Haas holds up the Tour Championship trophy after winning in a playoff Sunday over Hunter Mahan.
ATLANTA — Bill Haas had a sinking feeling when he heard the gallery groan, the first indication that his shot had tumbled down the slope and into the lake. When he saw the ball only half-submerged in water, Haas figured he still had the slightest chance.
To somehow save par.
Against all odds, to stay alive in his sudden-death playoff with Hunter Mahan at the Tour Championship, the richest playoff in golf history with FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus riding on the outcome.
Woods hires away Dustin Johnson's caddie
ATLANTA — Golf superstar Tiger Woods may not have been part of Sunday's Tour Championship, but that didn't stop him from stealing away the headlines from it.
Woods has hired Joe LaCava to be his third full-time caddie.
LaCava decided to leave Dustin Johnson, one of the most talented young Americans, to go to work for the former world No. 1 who hasn't won in the last two years.
According to a story posted on Woods' website Sunday night, LaCava approached Woods and his agent, Mark Steinberg, about the job.
"This was an important decision, and I wanted to think about it carefully," Woods said in the story. "Also, out of deference for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, I decided to wait until they were concluding to have substantive talks. We then spoke to Joe and came to an agreement.
"Joe is an outstanding caddie, and I have known him for many years. I've personally seen the great job he did for Freddie (Couples). I'm anxious for us to be working together."
David Winkle, Johnson's agent at Hambric Sports Management, also confirmed LaCava was going to work for Woods and a search for a new caddie would begin immediately.
"Needless to say, Dustin and I were completely surprised, as they have enjoyed a great relationship and have been very successful together," Winkle said. "Nonetheless, we think highly of Joe, both as a caddie and a person, which is why he was hired in the first place. We wish him nothing but the best with his new employer."
LaCava was the longtime caddie for Couples, a relationship that ended in the summer because Johnson was looking for a caddie and Couples' playing schedule was being reduced because of his health.
Swing coach Butch Harmon recommended LaCava to Johnson, and said Sunday night he was "shocked" by the change.
"The thing that bothered me the most was T.W. not calling Dustin and asking if he could talk to Joe," said Harmon, who used to work with Woods. "That's the way it's done. I'm a little disappointed with the way Tiger handled it. But I'm not surprised."
The post on Woods' website said he talked to Johnson after LaCava informed his employer he was leaving to work with Woods. The website story also said Woods spoke to Couples about the decision.
Woods fired Steve Williams after nearly 13 years this summer after Williams worked for Adam Scott while Woods was recovering from a knee injury.
A person familiar with the deal said LaCava informed Johnson of his decision in the locker room after the final round of the Tour Championship. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither Woods nor Johnson had spoken publicly about the hire.
LaCava was flying home and could not be immediately reached. Johnson left for a corporate photo shoot in Georgia, then was headed for Scotland for the Dunhill Links Championship.
"I'm excited to be working with Tiger," LaCava said in the story on Woods' website. "I contacted Tiger and Mark because this is a unique opportunity to be part of something very special. Tiger and I have been friends for a very long time, and I know what he can do.
"I want to thank Dustin (Johnson) for the opportunity to work with him, and I wish him nothing but the best."
LaCava waited for Johnson at his courtesy car to load up his clubs, and their farewell in the parking lot was routine. Johnson had planned to take a couple of friends to Scotland to caddie for him and his brother, Austin, his amateur partner.
Johnson won The Barclays last month with LaCava on the bag, and the news was a surprise. However, LaCava has two children, ages 12 and 14, and as long as he has been a caddie, wants to be spending more time at home. Johnson also is leaning toward taking up European Tour membership next year, which would mean about four additional tournaments overseas.
Woods, even when fully healthy, plays a limited schedule.
The question is whether Woods can make this a profitable move for LaCava. Woods hasn't won in more than two years on the PGA Tour, and he did not qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs this year, mainly because he missed nearly four months with an injury.
Woods has said his left leg is stronger than it has been in years. Woods next plays at the Frys.com Open in two weeks at CordeValle, about an hour south of San Francisco. Woods also is playing the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup, a competition that will feature all of his caddies — Mike Cowan (now with Jim Furyk) and Williams, who works for Scott.
"It was an all or nothing shot," Haas said. "So if I don't pull it off, I'm shaking Hunter's hand."
As he did through the final, frenzied hour at East Lake on Sunday, it worked to near perfection. Haas splashed the ball out onto the green to 3 feet for par, then won the Tour Championship — and the FedEx Cup — on the third extra playoff hole.
In the five-year history of this FedEx Cup, no finish was more compelling.
A handful of players had a shot at the $10 million with an hour left in the tournament until it came down to two — Haas and Mahan, in a sudden-death playoff with such high stakes that the difference between winning and losing was nearly $10 million.
Haas wound up winning a combined $11.44 million, including $10 million for capturing the FedEx Cup. Mahan, who failed to save par from a bunker on the third extra hole, had to settle for $864,000 as the runner-up and $700,000 for finishing seventh in the FedEx Cup.
Haas won for the first time this year, and the payoff could be more than just a massive bank deposit. Fred Couples makes his final captain's pick on Tuesday for the Presidents Cup, and Haas put on quite a show.
"I did what I could do," Haas said.
Even if Couples wasn't watching, his assistant captain had a great view: Jay Haas, Bill's dad, was in the gallery at East Lake, and raised his arms as his 29-year-old son delivered the riveting conclusion.
"I'm proud of him the way he came back," Jay Haas said.
Only a week ago, Haas was poised to make the Presidents Cup on his own until a 42 on the back nine at Cog Hill. He was atop the leaderboard Saturday at East Lake until a bogey-double bogey finish.
And he almost let it get away from him again. Haas had a three-shot lead when he walked off the 15th green, only to make bogey from the trees on the 16th and bogey from the gallery on the 18th for a 2-under 68.
Mahan had to make par on the 232-yard closing hole. He hit a clutch chip — the biggest weakness in his game — and holed a 5-foot par putt for a 71 to join Haas in the high-stakes playoff.
They returned to the par-3 18th and the pressure was obvious with so much money at stake. Haas hit his shot well right, into the gallery for the third straight time, then hit a tough chip to 10 feet. Mahan went in the bunker and blasted out to 6 feet. Haas appeared to be down to his last shot, but holed the par putt to stay alive.
What followed was an amazing turnaround.
From the right bunker, his approach to the 17th on the second playoff hole tumbled down the hill and barely into the lake, the top half of the ball still showing. Mahan hit a pitching wedge to 15 feet, and must have thought the $11.44 million was his.
Mahan was in that same lake on Thursday when he removed his socks and shoes and played back to the fairway, so when he saw what Haas had done, he knew it wasn't over. He just didn't think — no one did, really — that Haas could hit such a spectacular shot.
"I thought I had won on the second playoff hole, and then he hits it out of the water to 2 feet," Mahan said. "So it seemed like he was destined to win this week."
Water splashed upward, and the ball settled 3 feet away. Mahan's birdie putt just missed on the high side of the cup.
Back to the 18th for the third time in less than an hour, Haas avoided the gallery this time and went left of the green. Mahan again found the bunker, only this time he blasted out some 15 feet by the hole and missed. Haas chipped to 3 feet and holed it for the biggest putt of his young career.
He calmly pumped his fist toward the green and let out a huge sigh.
"I'm very fortunate," Haas said. "This is pretty unbelievable."
Haas was at No. 25 in the FedEx Cup, making him the lowest seed to capture golf's biggest prize. He joins a distinguished list of FedEx Cup winners that includes Tiger Woods (twice), Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk.
This FedEx Cup took more math skills than usual, yet it turned out to be the most compelling.
In the final hour of the Tour Championship, eight players were still in the mix for the $10 million prize.
Webb Simpson, the top seed, closed with a 73 and finished alone in 22nd, making it possible for anyone who won the Tour Championship — except for Aaron Baddeley — to pass him.
Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, made birdie on the 18th hole for a 69. He needed a three-way tie for second to capture the FedEx Cup, and could have done it had Mahan and Baddeley both made bogey on No. 18 in regulation. Both made par.
Donald wound up in a tie for third with K.J. Choi, who needed birdie on the 18th to get into the playoff. Choi shot 70.
Charles Howell III also needed a birdie to get into the playoff, but came up well left of the green on No. 18 and made bogey. Jason Day had a 30-foot birdie putt to join the playoff and gave it strong run. He missed a meaningless 4-footer coming back and made bogey.
It came down to Haas and Mahan, and an ending no one imagined. Haas hit two balls into the gallery, another into the lake, and still managed to win two trophies.