Bill Haas watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. Haas leads the first round of the Masters after shooting a four-under-par 68. (REUTERS: Mike Blake)
AUGUSTA — For Bill Haas, a round at Augusta National brings back warm family memories and on Thursday he made a new one with a four-under-par 68 that gave him the opening round lead at the Masters.
Haas, 31, first played the fabled layout when he was in high school, his great uncle Bob Goalby won the 1968 title and his father Jay Haas, a former Ryder Cup player and nine-time PGA Tour winner, played in 22 Masters with five top-10 finishes.
Following in the family business, Haas has won five times on the PGA Tour and won at some memorable venues, including Riviera, Congressional and at the Tour Championship in 2011 on his way to winning the FedExCup and its $10 million prize.
A resilient Haas, looking to notch his first major victory, began with a bogey at the first but bounced back with a birdie at number two before reaching the turn in two under.
After a bogey at the 17th, he came right back again with a birdie at 18 to seize a one-shot lead.
“A stat out here on tour is the bounceback stat, and it’s there for a reason,” said Haas. “It’s one of the most important stats we have, I think. Just to not compound your problems with another bogey.”
No problem for Haas, who feels right at home in Augusta.
“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 said, recalling trips to watch his dad play.
“We came down here most of the years. I remember like it was yesterday, he said it was 20 years ago he finished third (in 1995) and it does not seem that long ago. I remember a lot of the shots he hit coming down the stretch,” Haas said.
There are even more family connections.
“My uncle Jerry (Haas, his father’s brother), has competed in a couple Masters, and my uncle Dillard Pruitt,” said Haas, referring to his mother’s brother, a PGA Tour winner who tied for 13th in the 1992 Masters.
His brother, Jay Haas Jr. is also a former PGA Tour player.
Haas recalled the first time he played Augusta.
“A member here, Johnny Harris, is a friend of my dad’s,” he said. “I think I was in high school, (and) he had me and my dad and my brother down and we all four played.
“I do remember being fired up. I think we played maybe 27 holes and we played the Par-3 (course). You know, we got our full day’s worth, for sure.”
Haas got the most out of his day at Augusta on Thursday and his consistency marks him as a threat to make a major breakthrough and add another Masters crown to the family trophy case.
The Wake Forest graduate collected nine top-10 finishes in 2013 and is one of only four players on the PGA Tour to have a win in each of the previous four seasons, along with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose.