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Haas once again a long shot to win at East Lake

Bill Haas of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Cl
Bill Haas of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Cl

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Bill Haas faces long odds in his bid for FedExCup playoff honors at this week's season-ending Tour Championship but no one in the elite group of 30 players has better experience in knowing what is possible.

Two years ago, the unassuming American came into this tournament ranked a lowly 25th in the points standings and yet, helped by the misfortune of a few other players, he went on to complete an astonishing double by winning both titles.

With both points leader Webb Simpson and Luke Donald failing to do well enough in the final round, Haas beat compatriot Hunter Mahan in a thrilling playoff to clinch the Tour Championship along with the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus.

This week Haas faces a similarly uphill task, sitting 18th in the FedExCup standings after the first three playoff events and needing a great deal to go his way at East Lake for him to pull off a repeat double.

"I wouldn't say I have had the playoffs that I would have liked," the softly spoken 31-year-old told Reuters while preparing for Thursday's opening round in the PGA Tour's season finale.

"I am just being patient, and I'm just trying to say, 'Well this week was a goal of mine after last year finishing just out (of the rankings) to try to defend and all of that stuff.'

"So to get back here was a goal and to achieve that is a great feeling. I am looking forward to this week, just having good memories and I am proof that anything can happen this week."

North Carolina native Haas missed out on last year's Tour Championship after missing the cut in the first of the four FedExCup playoff events and then finishing no better than joint 35th in the next two.

LOST GROUND

This season, he came into the playoffs ranked fifth but steadily lost ground after tying for 25th at The Barclays, missing the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship and sharing 28th place at last week's BMW Championship.

"I played great all season to be seeded fifth but then I have dropped a little bit," said Haas, who clinched his fifth PGA Tour victory at the AT&T National in June.

"But I know just as well as anybody, if you can win here, with a little bit of help from a couple of guys, you never know what can happen.

"So I am just looking forward to that opportunity. Overall, I am definitely pleased with some pretty good finishes this season."

Haas, whose father Jay is a successful Champions Tour player who triumphed nine times on the regular PGA Tour, has two vivid memories from his unexpected triumph at the 2011 Tour Championship.

"One is that water shot, obviously, and the other is the putt I had to win," he recalled. "The putt was from about four feet and it certainly wasn't a tap-in.

"I remember just being that nervous, having that much on the line and having that putt and then seeing it go in ... I haven't ever had a feeling like that in golf."

The water shot came in the playoff on the second extra hole, the par-four 17th, after Haas ended in the right fairway bunker off the tee and appeared to be literally sunk when he pulled his second shot left of the green into the edge of a water hazard.

Remarkably, Haas conjured a stunning third shot with his right foot in water, somehow getting his ball to check on the green and end up just three feet from the cup before he tapped in for par to keep the playoff alive.

"I don't know how that shot came out perfectly like that," he beamed. "If there's a little bit of water, you play it like a bunker shot if you don't mind getting your feet dirty. I just blasted it out of there and it came out perfect. I was lucky."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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