April 10, 2014

The Masters: Just like Dad, Haas up early

As father looks on, Bill Haas grabs sole possession of lead

Greenville’s Bill Haas can’t believe it has been 19 years since he was outside the ropes following his dad’s every shot on the way to third place in the 1995 Masters.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Bill said. “I remember a lot of the shots he hit coming down the stretch.”

Now, it’s Jay Haas’ turn to play the nervous spectator after 31-year-old Bill put himself in sole possession of the first-round lead with a 4-under 68 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday.

“The only thing that’s different, I never remember thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could hit this shot for my dad,’ but I do know now that there’s some times I’m like, ‘I wish my dad could hit this shot for me,’ ” Bill Haas said Thursday after his first sub-70 round at the Masters.

Haas leads defending champion Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen by one shot.

“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, so that was enjoyable for me today,” Scott said. “Getting off to a good start in a major is huge, because I think they are the hardest tournaments to kind of chase.”

Rory McIlroy, K.J. Choi and Brandt Snedeker were among a large group two shots off the lead entering Friday’s second round.

Jay Haas is with his son here at Augusta National, offering everything from rides to and from the course to tips on the practice range.

“I think we are both each other’s biggest fans,” Bill said.

This is new ground for Bill, whose best finish in his previous four Masters was last year’s tie for 20th. His best finish in any major was a tie for 12th at the 2011 British Open. The No. 31 player in the world, he is coming off a career best nine top 10 finishes in 2013 and has two this season.

“He missed one shot on the first, and I can’t remember any others that he missed,” said 20-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, who played with Haas in a threesome that included Miquel Angel Jimenez. “He had a few really nice putts, and that’s really difficult. Out here when you make putts, it means that you have done everything right.”

Haas bogeyed No. 1 but came away feeling good after a long par putt narrowly missed. He then birdied No. 2 to get back to even par. After birdies at Nos. 4, 7, 12 and 13, he ended his round with another bogey-birdie, sticking a beautiful 8-iron approach shot inside 10 feet on No. 18.

“That’s a stat out here on Tour, the bounce back stat, and it’s there for a reason,” Haas said. “It’s one of the most important stats we have, I think, just to not compound your problems with another bogey. Birdieing 18, that pin was outstanding, a huge bonus.”

Haas’ birdies on Nos. 4 and 7 came on 20-foot putts.

“The putter kind of saved me and settled me down,” he said.

Haas played his first round at Augusta National as a high schooler while the guest of a member and has a long family history with the game’s most famous course. Great uncle Bob Goalby won the 1968 Masters. Jay Haas played in 22 Masters, Jay’s brother Jerry played in the 1985 Masters, and Bill’s maternal uncle Dillard Pruitt played in the 1992 and 1993 Masters, finishing tied for 13th in 1992.

“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,” he said.

That he’ll tee it up Friday with the lead doesn’t guarantee anything, Haas knows. He led after the first week of last week’s Shell Houston Open and went on to finish 37th.

“So I know there’s tons of golf left,” he 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 tomorrow.”

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