AUGUSTA — Bill Haas stepped to the first tee at Augusta National and pulled his drive left into the trees lining the uphill par-4. By the time he arrived at the spot, a friendly Masters patron had kicked his ball off the pine straw and back into the fairway.
The Greenville native knows, of course, it won’t be that way come Thursday when the first major of 2012 begins. This was about enjoying an unseasonably warm Monday afternoon and getting a feel for the golf course, where this week he’ll be playing his third Masters.
It’s the second time for his caddie — his older brother, Jay Jr. The brothers, though, have seen Augusta National dozens of times while following their father, Jay, who played in the Masters 22 times between 1976 and 2005, with a best finish of third in 1995.
“The first time I caddied here was for my dad — I think in 2000,” Jay Jr. said as his brother hit his drive on the third hole. “It’s my first time with Bill, but I watched him play here one year.”
Bill, who won last year’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles, a combination worth $11.44 million, laughed when asked how his “new” caddie was working out. On his previous visits to Augusta, former USC golfer Michael Maness was on Haas’ bag.
“It’s been crazy,” Bill said. “(Jay) is great — but to tell the truth, I think he wishes it was him playing. But so far, it’s all good.”
Sure, Charl Schwartzl finished with four straight birdies to capture last year’s Masters in his second appearance at Augusta National. But Jason Day, a rookie in 2011, tied fellow Australian Adam Scott for second place — two shots behind Schwartzl. He sank birdies on his final two holes to shoot 68 (to the winner’s 66) on Sunday.
You’d think Day would be able to go chapter-and-verse about his week. Think again, he said.
“I can’t remember any of my rounds last year,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s hard to explain, but I really can’t remember.” He laughed. “I may have short-term memory loss.”
Day might want to check out the 2011 Masters video. His 8-under-par 64 in the second round tied for low round at Augusta National for a first-time participant and the second-lowest round in the tournament.
“I was just so focused on what I needed to do,” Day said. “I think I pretty much, after I finished the 72nd hole, that I was really just … wow. I really played great.”
Another South Carolina tandem got in an afternoon practice round Monday. Corbin Mills, a junior at Clemson and the defending U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, teamed with 2007 Masters champ Zach Johnson, Scott Stallings (winner of last year’s Greenbrier Classic) and Charlotte’s Webb Simpson, a two-time winner in 2011.
On the bag for Mills this week is Jordan Byrd, assistant golf coach at Clemson and brother of PGA Tour veteran Jonathan Byrd — who is a neighbor of Johnson’s at Sea Island, Ga.
Mills demonstrated amateur nerves at the brutal par-4 11th hole, pushing his drive deep in the trees. As the gallery laughed, a sheepish Mills fetched his errant ball and dropped it in the fairway, then hit the green on his second shot.