AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bill Haas has just about done it all in the Masters Tournament. Spectator at age 6, caddie for father, Jay, at age 17, participant at age 27 and now first-round tournament leader at age 31.
The only thing left is a green jacket, which the Greenville, S.C., resident might be slipping on Sunday night if he keeps this up.
Haas, who is playing in his fifth Masters, shot 4-under-par 68 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead over defending champion and World No. 2 Adam Scott, 2012 winner Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost a playoff to Watson that year.
Seven players shot 70, including Masters rookie Jimmy Walker, 35, who has won three times this season and leads the PGA Tour’s money list. Fellow first-timers Kevin Stadler and Jonas Blixt also had 70, as did Brandt Snedeker, K.J. Choi, Gary Woodland and Marc Leishman, who was the co-leader after the first round in 2013.
First-timer Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan who is ranked 13th in the world, was among eight players who opened with 71. That group included two-time major champion Rory McIlroy and 54-year-old Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champ.
They are all chasing Haas, whose 68 is the highest score to lead a first round since 2008 when eventual champion Trevor Immelman and Justin Rose opened at that figure.
“The pins were on the tougher side,” Scott explained.
That, combined with fast and firm greens, translated into a first-round scoring average of 74.474 compared with 73.054 last year. In 2013’s first round there were 12 scores in the 60s compared with four Thursday.
Haas, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 2011 FedEx Cup champion, isn’t getting ahead of himself. He was the first-round leader at last week’s Houston Open with 65, but followed with 74-76-72 and tied for 37th.
“I know there’s tons of golf left,” Haas said. “And maybe understanding that, I know that I can’t expect too much. You’ve just got to go out there and keep playing golf, try to hit that fairway on No. 1 (today).”
Haas, the first American first-round leader since Couples in 2010, has some serious Masters bloodlines. His great uncle, Bob Goalby, played in 27 Masters (1960-1986) and won the green jacket in 1968. Bill’s father, Jay, played in 22 Masters (1976-2005). Two uncles – Jerry Haas (1985) and Dillard Pruitt (1992, 1993) also played in the Masters.
“It’s something I think we are very proud of to have that many members of our family be able to tee it up here at Augusta,” Bill Haas said.
Jay Haas’ best Masters finish came in 1995, when he was the second-round leader after a 64 and finished tied for third. Bill Haas was in the gallery during the final round.
“I remember like it was yesterday, and it does not seem that long ago,” Bill Haas said. “I remember a lot of the shots he hit coming down the stretch.”
If Bill Haas goes on to win, he will give his father an assist.
“He’s staying with us this week, and he’s on the range with me every morning,” Bill said.
Goalby, Bill said, has told him to “go get it.’ He tells me ‘you can do it. You’re a better player than the scores you’re shooting.’ “
There was nothing wrong with the 68, which marked the first time Haas had shot in the 60s in his 17 Augusta National rounds. His best finish is a tie for 20th last year.
“I knew that stat,” said Haas, who had shot 70 three times.
Haas had six birdies (three of them longer than 20 feet) against two bogeys, including one on the opening hole. He closed out his round with a 5-foot birdie on the 18th hole.
“That was a huge bonus,” Haas said.
Scott’s 69 is the lowest first-round score by a defending champion since 2001 when Vijay Singh had 69.
“It was really how you hope to come out and play at a major – and especially the Masters,” Scott said. “I was really solid.”
Not so solid was three-time champion Phil Mickelson, whose 76 was one off his career high at Augusta National. He’s tied for 67th place, and only the top 50 and ties make the cut after today’s second round.
“I’ve got some issues,” he said. “I had a lot of mental errors and misjudged some shots. I wasn’t sharp. I threw away a ton of shots.”
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