AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bill Haas knows well his family’s history in the Masters. His great-uncle, Bob Goalby, won the green jacket in 1968. His father, Jay, made a run at the championship in 1995 but wound up in a tie for third. Two uncles also have competed in the year’s first major.
Now carrying the family flag up Magnolia Lane, Bill Haas began the 78th edition of the Masters with a 4-under-par 68, good for a 1-stroke lead Thursday over a field that basked in brilliant sunshine but struggled with difficult hole locations at Augusta National Golf Club.
Haas, 31, birdied the 18th hole to separate himself from defending champion Adam Scott and the two principals in the 2012 playoff here — winner Bubba Watson and runner-up Louis Oosthuizen. Each of the three fired a 69 — 1 better than a crowd of seven at 70.
With Tiger Woods skipping his first Masters since 1994, the spectators cast much attention on three-time champion Phil Mickelson. But Mickelson did not provide many memorable moments, with 7s at the par-4 seventh and the par-5 15th contributing to a 76.
According to Haas, the Masters has “held a special place in our family” since Goalby’s triumph 46 years ago. He said he “might have missed a handful of them over the years,” but he particularly recalled when he was 12 and watched his father contend for the title.
Jay Haas, who played in 22 Masters, held the 36-hole lead in 1995. Bill Haas remembers many of the shots he hit that weekend, including a key second at the par-5 15th on the final day, when his father hit the green and then watched the ball roll back into the water.
As for his father’s body of work in the Masters, Haas recalled: “I never remember thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could hit that shot for my dad.’ But I do know that there’s some times I’m like, ‘I wish my dad could hit this shot for me.’ “
Haas, ranked 31st in the world this week, fashioned a round of six birdies and two bogeys. He bounced back from a bogey at No. 17 with a beautiful 8-iron approach to the last hole, and a birdie. He said the hole locations for the first round were a challenge.
“There were a bunch of tough pins,” he said, “and I think sometimes you’ve just got to say there are a lot of feast-or-famine pins in the sense that you either go at it or you’re going to have 50 feet … a tough two-putt. I don’t know if experience can help you on that, other than you’ve got to hit a good golf shot.”
Scott, the 2013 Masters champion in a playoff, agreed that the hole locations “were on the tougher side.” But he rebounded from a splashed tee shot that led to a double bogey at the par-3 12th by playing 1-under-par golf from that point.
“There’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual, so that was enjoyable for me.”
Watson recorded the day’s only bogey-free round, while Oosthuizen drained a 15-foot birdie putt at the final hole to finish 3 under.
However, opening day belonged to Haas, who this weekend would like to give his father thrills similar to those the elder Haas gave him 19 years ago.
“He’s the person I looked up to the most,” Bill Haas said. “He’s the person I idolized, golf-wise. It was great. I loved watching him compete, loved watching him play.
“It’s great having him here; we are staying together this week. He’s on the range with me in the morning. Hopefully, he hasn’t left. He’s my ride home.”