Masters 2014: Bill Haas sets first-round lead

BILL Haas has the Masters in his blood. His great uncle, Bob Goalby, claimed a Green Jacket in 1968. His dad, Jay, had five top-10s and came close to winning in 1995, when he finished third behind Ben Crenshaw. Two of his uncles also teed up in this event.

Bill Haas of the United States hits his tee shot on the 18th. Picture: Getty

Now, another generation in the Haas family is sitting pretty at Augusta National, albeit after just one round. Adam Scott, bidding to become just the fourth player in the event’s history to win back-to-back, is off to an ominous start after carding a three-under-par 69 on a glorious day in Georgia.

That was matched by Bubba Watson, the winner here two years ago, as well as Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, while Brandt Snedeker, who led going into the final round 12 months ago, also had an encouraging first circuit this time around as he signed for one of several 70s.

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However, pride of place on the opening day in the event’s 78th staging went to Haas as he set the pace with a four-under 68. He tied for 20th last year - his best effort in four previous appearances.

This one didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts with an opening bogey but birdies at the fourth and seventh were followed by back-to-back ones at the 13th and 14th. Even without Eisenhower’s Tree to worry about, the 31-year-old dropped a shot at the 17th but repaired that damage with a closing birdie.

It was his Masters pedigree more than any shots he’d hit, though, that was the subject of most attention afterwards. “My great uncle, my dad’s uncle, Bob Goalby, won the Masters in 1968 and I think it’s been a special place in our family since then,” he confessed. “I asked my dad last night and he said he played 22 times here.

“We [the rest of the family] came most of the years and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember a lot of the shots he hit coming down the stretch. I was starting to play golf myself at that age so I think appreciated it more probably.”

His uncle, Jerry Haas, also played, as did Dillard Pruitt, another uncle from his mother’s side. “I guess so,” he replied to being asked if the event was in his blood. “To have that many members of our family be able to tee it up here at Augusta is something we are very proud of.”

Scott, of course, was a proud man when he became the first Australian to win here 12 months ago and he’s off and running again. An opening birdie got his juices flowing right away and, though the 12th cost him a double-bogey 5, he bounced back with a birdie two holes later then parred in from there.

“I was very happy with the way I played today tee-to-green,” admitted Scott who is bidding to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only players to retain this coveted title. “It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters. I was really solid.

“I hit the one poor shot on 12, which obviously cost me a couple of shots. But 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.”

Rory McIlroy, bidding to make amends for his blow-up here in 2011, had an up and down day in his 71. He showed an exquisite touch at the first to save par before making an early thrust with birdies at the third and fifth. He then gave those back with bogeys at the eighth - a hole he’d certainly have been looking to birdie - and the 12th.He was back to a couple under again with one to play before spilling a shot at the last.

“It was a good day,” insisted McIlroy. “I think that they set the course up very difficult today. Some of the pin positions were tough to get close to. It was just, sometimes I wasn’t putting the ball in the right place and taking two putts and getting out of there. The wind was all over the place. Anything under par today was a good score.”

The Eisenhower Tree may have gone but one tradition that remains is the sight of Fred Couples’ name on the leaderboards here. The 1992 winner led after the opening round in 2010 and was fourth at the same stage a year ago. Now 54, he’s a little bit further back this time but still managed to break par with his 71.

“I’m happy with what I shot,” he confessed “The last few years have been very good and I really played well today. Can a 50-year-old win here? I think so. Bernhard Langer and I both last year played really, really well.

“It’s hard for me personally to play a course this hard for four solid rounds. But I love it and feel I can play it and my goal is to compete with these guys and not really worry about them.”

Another player in his 50s, though only just in his case, Miguel Angel Jimenez also opened with a 71, an effort he’d probably have settled for heading out but not after getting to four-under after ten. Amen Corner got him, a bogey at the 11th being followed by a visit to Rae’s Creek at the 12th and a double-bogey there. “I played beautiful golf today, beautiful,” said Jimenez. “I only made two bad mistakes.”

Among those to make a few too many were the hotly-fancied Jason Day (75), three-times winner Phil Mickelson (76), US Open champion Justin Rose (76), 2009 winner and last year’s runner-up Angel Cabrera (78) and USPGA champion Jason Dufner (80).

Also facing a fight to make the cut is former world No 1 Luke Donald, whose 79 included a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4 for touching the sand after leaving his third shot in a greenside bunker at the ninth.

Three players are tied for the lead in the race to be leading amateur, including English duo Matthew Fitzpatrick and Garrick Porteous. Fitzpatrick, the 19-year-old from Sheffield who won the US Amateur Championship last year, recovered well from an opening double-bogey only to drop three shots in the last six holes in his 76, which was later matched by both Porteous, the reigning Scottish Stroke-Play champion from Bamburgh in Northumberland, and Australian Matt Goss.