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HAAS TAKES WATSON'S CROWN

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The coronation of Tom Watson was ready Sunday afternoon. When the final round of the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship began, Watson had a four-shot lead, and most people at Baltimore Country Club, including his fellow competitors, felt the engraver might as well go ahead and begin etching his name on the crystal trophy.

"What I thought when I got out here was 'What a nice day this is for Tom Watson,' " said Jay Haas, who began the final round five shots off the lead.

What unfolded could perhaps be the greatest final round in the 29-year history of the Champions Tour. Haas - who a month ago was experiencing so much pain in his left elbow from tendinitis that he couldn't swing a club without grimacing - shot a jaw-dropping 6-under-par 64 to storm from behind and steal the tournament.

Haas, 55, birdied the final two holes, the toughest of the course, to finish with a 13-under-par score of 267. Watson, who struggled with his iron play much of the day and acknowledged playing a little tentatively with the lead, shot an even-par 70 to finish at 12-under 268.

Watson remained true to his reputation and was classy and polite in defeat. Asked whether he thought, at the beginning of the round, a 70 would have been good enough to win the tournament, Watson grinned and nodded reluctantly.

"I would have thought I had a pretty good chance of winning, yeah," Watson said. "But stranger things have happened out here. We have some players who can flat play on the Champions Tour, and Jay is one of them."

Watson said the disappointment he felt Sunday was similar to what he felt this summer, when the British Open slipped from his grasp on the final day.

"Frankly, it's not a lot different," Watson said. "I'm a golfer. That's what I do. When there is a chance to win a tournament, it doesn't matter whether it's the British Open or this tour championship. It doesn't matter a hill of beans. It's the same thing."

It's difficult to describe just how good Haas' round was, but consider these facts: He was the only player in the field without a bogey Sunday. He shot a 31 on the back nine, which is considered the more difficult half of the course, and his 64 was three shots better than any other player Sunday, when the average score was 71.88.

Only one other player who began the day in the top 10 - Bernhard Langer, who shot 68 to finish in a tie for fifth - managed to break par. The three players who started the day within four shots of Watson - Loren Roberts (71), John Cook (72) and Mark Wiebe (71) - lost ground. And on a day when the wind was swirling and the pressure mounting, Haas easily could have flirted with a 62 or 61. He missed four birdie putts inside of 10 feet and still blitzed past the rest of the field.

"Under the pressure, I can't imagine a better round than I played today under these conditions," said Haas, who won his third major on the Champions Tour and a first-place check for $405,000. It was his 14th career victory on the Champions Tour.

Want more evidence that even Haas didn't see this one coming? When the day began, he was booked on a 9:50 p.m. flight out of Washington Dulles International Airport so he could fly directly Sunday night to San Francisco, where he'll serve as a captain's assistant to Fred Couples in the President's Cup. He didn't anticipate being pressed for time after a lengthy trophy ceremony and the post-round news conference.

"I think we'll make it," Haas said, answering with a touch of nervous laughter. "Sunday night traffic [is] OK, right?"

The way Haas finished his round, he probably deserves a police escort. Although Watson struggled with his irons Sunday, the five-time British Open winner made a thrilling 35-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole that gave him a one-shot lead with three holes to play. The normally reserved Watson barely tapped the downhill putt to get it started, then began barking at it when it began to drift right the last 5 feet. But the ball almost seemed as if it were listening to Watson, darting left the final foot and into the cup. He raised his right arm in celebration, the first time all week he had reacted with such enthusiasm after a birdie.

"When I made that putt, I figured if Jay didn't birdie 16, which he didn't, I'd kind of be in the catbird seat," Watson said. "But that wasn't the case."

That's because Haas responded with two improbable birdies. Playing in the group ahead of Watson, he knocked a 5-iron onto the 17th green 15 feet right of the pin. The putt had nearly a foot and a half of break, but Haas knocked it into the middle of the cup. He came to the 18th tee tied with Watson at 12-under but fully aware he was staring down his nemesis. The three previous rounds, he had failed to drive it in the fairway on the 496-yard par 4, which all week was the toughest hole on the course.

Haas blasted a 301-yard drive down the right side of the fairway and pumped both fists in celebration. He stepped up and hit his approach, a 6-iron from 195 yards, to within 3 feet of the hole and rolled in the easy birdie putt.

Watson missed the fairway and couldn't get his ball onto the green from a horrible lie in the rough. His last-ditch effort to hole out from below the green ran 10 feet past.

"Jay deserved it," Watson said. "I didn't play with the type of aggressiveness that I needed to play today. I played tentative golf."

Sitting in the post-round news conference, Haas still couldn't quite believe what had just unfolded. A month ago, his elbow was hurting so much he had to withdraw from two tournaments. Standing on the range in Seattle, with his shots flying half the distance he wanted to, he thought his year might be over. He even worried his career might be in jeopardy.

The adrenaline he felt the last few holes was worth more than any victory check.

"It never gets old," Haas said. "That's what we play for. The money's great and the titles and all that stuff. But to put it on the line and to do it, to hit good shots when it matters most, there's no greater feeling for a golfer." CHAMPIONS TOUR CONSTELLATION ENERGY CHAMPIONSHIP

Timonium

Final round

Jay Haas $405,000

66-70-67-64 - 267

Tom Watson $237,600

66-68-64-70 - 268

Mark Wiebe $178,200

69-67-66-71 - 273

Loren Roberts $178,200

70-67-65-71 - 273

Bernhard Langer $118,800

72-65-69-68 - 274

John Cook $118,800

69-68-65-72 - 274

Fred Funk $91,800

71-68-69-67 - 275

Phil Blackmar $91,800

71-70-64-70 - 275

Mike Reid $67,500

68-72-68-68 - 276

Mark O'Meara $67,500

70-69-68-69 - 276

Nick Price $67,500

69-69-69-69 - 276

Tim Simpson $67,500

69-69-69-69 - 276

Keith Fergus, $52,650

70-69-69-69 - 277

Morris Hatalsky, $52,650

70-69-66-72 - 277

Gary Hallberg, $40,770

74-68-69-67 - 278

Jay Don Blake, $40,770

70-70-70-68 - 278

Joey Sindelar, $40,770

69-71-70-68 - 278

Dan Forsman, $40,770

68-72-68-70 - 278

Hale Irwin, $40,770

72-67-68-71 - 278

Andy Bean, $40,770

69-73-65-71 - 278

Gene Jones, $40,770

71-68-67-72 - 278

Lonnie Nielsen, $30,510

65-73-70-71 - 279

Mark James, $30,510

69-71-68-71 - 279

David Frost, $24,686

71-76-66-67 - 280

David Eger, $24,686

70-74-69-67 - 280

Larry Nelson, $24,686

72-69-68-71 - 280

Jeff Sluman, $24,686

74-68-66-72 - 280

Fuzzy Zoeller, $24,686

69-72-67-72 - 280

Ronnie Black, $24,686

72-68-67-73 - 280

Mike Goodes, $24,686

70-69-68-73 - 280

Eduardo Romero, $19,440

68-74-69-70 - 281

Bob Tway, $19,440

68-68-73-72 - 281

Sandy Lyle, $19,440

67-73-66-75 - 281

Don Pooley, $17,010

72-71-71-68 - 282

Olin Browne, $17,010

70-72-71-69 - 282

Bruce Vaughan, $17,010

72-68-71-71 - 282

Robin Freeman, $14,580

71-69-73-70 - 283

Robert L. Thompson, $14,580

69-75-68-71 - 283

Scott Simpson, $14,580

69-71-71-72 - 283

Chip Beck, $14,580

72-71-68-72 - 283

Russ Cochran, $12,960

75-71-69-69 - 284

Fulton Allem, $12,960

69-70-69-76 - 284

R.W. Eaks, $11,340

73-75-69-68 - 285

Joe Ozaki, $11,340

71-68-74-72 - 285

Tom Purtzer, $11,340

71-73-69-72 - 285

Allen Doyle, $11,340

72-70-71-72 - 285

James Mason, $8,640

77-70-70-69 - 286

Jerry Pate, $8,640

77-67-72-70 - 286

Tom Kite, $8,640

74-69-72-71 - 286

Larry Mize, $8,640

70-73-70-73 - 286

Kirk Hanefeld, $8,640

74-69-70-73 - 286

Craig Stadler, $8,640

71-65-70-80 - 286

Brad Bryant, $6,210

73-73-71-70 - 287

Gil Morgan, $6,210

71-71-74-71 - 287

Jim Thorpe, $6,210

72-72-70-73 - 287

Blaine McCallister, $6,210

72-70-73-72 - 287

Bruce Lietzke, $6,210

74-68-69-76 - 287

Hal Sutton, $5,265

74-72-68-74 - 288

Bruce Summerhays, $5,265

76-68-69-75 - 288

John Morse, $4,725

71-74-72-72 - 289

Bob Gilder, $4,725

71-69-70-79 - 289

Des Smyth, $4,050

72-74-74-70 - 290

Mark W. Johnson, $4,050

73-76-68-73 - 290

Walter Hall, $4,050

73-71-74-72 - 290

Steve Thomas, $3,105

75-74-69-73 - 291

John Harris, $3,105

71-74-71-75 - 291

Ben Crenshaw, $3,105

75-71-69-76 - 291

Chris Starkjohann, $3,105

74-71-70-76 - 291

Tom McKnight, $2,457

76-69-75-72 - 292

Donnie Hammond, $2,457

79-67-71-75 - 292

Tom Jenkins, $2,214

72-75-72-75 - 294

Denis Watson, $2,052

76-71-74-76 - 297

Bobby Wadkins, $1,890

72-72-75-80 - 299

Mike Hulbert, $1,782

79-73-71-80 - 303

Mike McCullough, $1,674

73-78-74-79 - 304

Wayne Grady, $1,566

81-70-74-81 - 306

Bruce Fleisher

69-69-71-WD

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