AUGUSTA, Ga. — There was a time when Archie Bunker might have fit right in and been right at home at Augusta National Golf Club. Having Bill Haas in the lead at the 78th Masters does have a certain all in the family feel.
The latest in a long line of family members to wear a Masters player’s badge, Haas closed with a birdie on the 18th hole to shoot a 4-under-par 68 and steal the spotlight from another family, who made tournament history on Thursday. Craig and Kevin Stadler became the first father and son to play in the same Masters, and Kevin’s debut 70 left him tied for fifth, two shots back.
Without an injured Tiger Woods, and with seven of the world’s top 10-ranked players failing to break 73, family was the early, easy theme on a sunny, warm, windless day. The conditions seemed perfect for scoring, but Augusta National is playing difficult: dry, firm, and fast, and with similar weather forecast for the next three days, it’s expected to stay that way.
Haas roots run deep at Augusta National. Very deep. Bill’s father, longtime PGA Tour player Jay Haas, competed in 22 Masters, and tied for third in 1995. Jay’s brother, Jerry, qualified for the 1985 Masters, and tied for 31st (Jay was fifth that year). Jay and Jerry’s uncle, Bob Goalby, was handed the 1968 Masters title by Roberto De Vicenzo, who signed an incorrect scorecard, adding a shot to his final-round total and losing by one. Dillard Pruitt, the brother of Bill’s mother, tied for 13th in the 1992 Masters, the first of his two consecutive trips.
Factor in Bill’s five starts here, and that’s five family members, who have combined for 57 Masters appearances, 38 cuts made, six top-10 finishes, four top-five finishes, and one victory. If they wanted to hold a family reunion, instead of heading to Disney World and wearing color-coordinated T-shirts, the extended Haas clan can just come to Augusta National and wear green.
Haas, who leads by one shot over defending champion Adam Scott, 2012 champion Bubba Watson, and Louis Oosthuizen, would love to add a second formal winner’s jacket to just such a gathering.
“It’s been a special place in our family,” Haas said. “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.”
It’s the fifth straight year that Haas has qualified for the Masters. He’s won at least one tournament on the PGA Tour in each of the past four years (five total), and was the 2011 FedEx Cup champion when he captured the Tour Championship in dramatic fashion, splashing out of a lake to save par and extend a playoff.
No aquatic theatrics required on this day, although Haas did open his Masters with a bogey. He answered with a birdie at the second, and responded similarly after his only other bogey, at No. 17. He holed a short birdie putt at the 18th to easily break 70 for the first time in his Masters career. Over his first 16 rounds here, Haas had been remarkably consistent, with scores ranging from 70 to 76. His best finish is a tie for 20th, which came last year.
One family wrinkle for Haas: He’s had his brother, Jay Haas Jr., as his frequent caddie for a number of years, but recently made a switch (he has just two top-10 tour finishes in 11 events this year). This week he’s using Scott Gneiser, who helped David Toms win a major and now works for John Peterson, who is not in the field.
Haas was a Masters caddie once, too, for his dad in 1999, when Jay Haas tied for 44th and was paired in the final round with a young amateur named Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard shot 73 then, and had 74 on Thursday.
The three players closest to Haas at 69 were instrumental in the past two Masters. Scott won last year in a playoff over Angel Cabrera; Watson beat Oosthuizen in 2012, also in a playoff, also ending on the 10th hole.
For Scott, bidding to become the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters, it was a solid start, with five birdies and only one bad swing. He put his tee shot at the par-3 12th into Rae’s Creek, which led to a double bogey.
“I was very happy with the way I played today tee to green. It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters. I was really solid,” said Scott, who also opened with 69 a year ago, and now is a combined 18 under par in his last six Masters rounds.
Watson was the only player in the field not to make a bogey, and used birdies at Nos. 3, 13, and 15 to give him his best Masters score since a final-round 68 the year he won. Oosthuizen famously had a double eagle at the par-5 second on that Sunday two years ago. He birdied the hole Thursday, one of his six birdies on the day.
Ripping a page from the 1980s, the first page of the Masters leaderboard features Haas, Watson, and Stadler. Jay, Tom, and Craig were all at Augusta National on Thursday — Jay watching, Tom (78) and Craig (82) playing — but it was the next generation that grabbed all the attention.
It’s the second straight week that Bill Haas has held the first-round lead. He shot 65 at the Shell Houston Open, his low round of the year. But then . . .
“Finished 37th, so I know — very recently, I know — there’s a ton of golf left,” Haas said. “Maybe understanding that, I know that I can’t expect too much. Just go out there and keep playing golf, try to hit that fairway on No. 1 tomorrow. It’s a new day.”