AUGUSTA, Ga. — It takes a lot for a member of the Haas family to be the focal point of the clan when it comes to The Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Club.
Bill Haas’ 4-under-par 68 in Thursday’s opening round of the 78th Masters warrants the attention.
The Greenville resident and Charlotte, N.C., native holds a one-stroke lead over defending champion Adam Scott of Australia, 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa on a quality and international leaderboard.
Haas has spent years lauding the Masters accomplishments of his father, Jay, who played in 22 Masters and finished third in 1995, great paternal uncle and 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, and uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt, who both played in the tournament.
“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,” Haas said. It might be his time to add something significant to the legacy.
Haas recorded the lowest of just 19 scores under par as a beautiful day for golf wasn’t a perfect day for scoring. Pin placements were difficult on a course that has been firming up since rain Monday, with little if any rain expected the remainder of the week.
“This golf course is right on the edge, it’s in perfect shape, and they’ve got it exactly how they want it,” said Brandt Snedeker, who is tied for fifth at 70 with six players including Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner this season. “The pin positions today were brutal. There was not one getable pin really out there where you felt like you can make a birdie and get it going. You had to hit some quality golf shots to make birdies.”
The 68 is Haas’ first score below 70 in 17 Masters rounds, and matches his lowest round in a major. “I was aware of that stat before I teed off,” Haas said, “so to shoot in the 60s feels great.”
Haas, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour in nine-plus seasons who hasn’t missed a cut in 11 events this year, held a first-round lead last week following a 65 at the Shell Houston Open before tying for 37th. “So I know very recently that there’s tons of golf left,” Haas said. “All you can ask in the first round of a major is to get off to a good start.”
Haas also hasn’t missed a cut in his four previous Masters appearances as a pro over the past four years but also hasn’t finished better than 20th. “[The finishes have resulted from] a little bit of everything: putting, golf shots, nerves, all of the things that get you. Tomorrow, it’s a new day.”
Haas bogeyed the first hole following a poor iron shot, but rolled in a 15-foot downhill birdie putt on the second and went on to birdie holes 4, 7, 13, 14 and 18 while making a bogey on 17.
Scott has been the center of attention all week as the defending champion, and the title seems to suit him.
He birdied the first hole, and went on to birdie holes 6, 8, 10 and 14, with his lone hiccup a double-bogey on the par-3 12th, where he hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek for the first time in his 45 career Masters rounds.
“There’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been in the past, because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual,” Scott said. “… Having won last year, I think in some ways has taken a little pressure off me as I teed up today and kind of felt like what was the worst that can happen? I’m still going to be a Masters Champion.”
Scott’s 69 included a pair of three-putt pars on the two par-5s on the back nine. “I think the par-5s are a big key for me here, and I didn’t take advantage of them today and shot 69, so that’s a good indication of the quality of my play,” he said.
Scott is the first defending champion to break 70 in the opening round of the following year’s Masters since Vijay Singh in 2001, and his previous best position at Augusta after the first round was eighth.
Without World No. 1 and four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods in the field, two-time major champion Rory McIlroy and three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson are the headliners. McIlroy is in fine shape following a 71 that has him tied for 12th and three shots off the lead.
“I thought anything under par was a good score, especially how firm the greens were getting on the back nine,” McIlroy said.
Mickelson, meanwhile, has some work to do Friday following a 4-over 76 that included a triple bogey on the par-4 seventh hole and double on the par-5 15th.
Mickelson hit a routine chip shot from the fringe off the seventh green over the green, then three-putted from 8 feet for a triple-bogey 7, his first score worse than a bogey on the hole in 83 Masters rounds.
Mickelson was 2 over following a bogey on the 14th when he hit a shot into the water on the par-5 15th leading to the double.
“It wasn’t the best day for me today,” Mickelson said. “… I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow just to make the cut. So I’ve got some issues.
“I actually played well. I know it’s hard to say that, but I actually played well and I just made a lot of little mental errors.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.