Let the U.S. Open finish on Father’s Day, June 15.
Here at Augusta National, Father’s Day – and Uncles’ Day, not to mention Great Uncles’ Day – was opening day at the 2014 Masters.
The first-day leader, with a four-under par 68, was 31-year-old Bill Haas, son of Jay Haas, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour and in his own right a golfer who tied for third in the 1995 Masters won by Ben Crenshaw.
But it doesn’t stop there. Jay Haas’s other son, Jay Jr., has also played the PGA tour and sometimes caddies for Bill. Jay Sr.’s brother, Jerry, played the PGA tour, as did their brother-in-law, Dillard Pruitt.
Take a breath … and then there’s Bill Haas’s great uncle Bob Goalby, winner of the 1968 Masters – sometimes called “The Lost Masters” in that Argentinian golfer Roberto De Vicenzo signed the wrong scorecard and Goalby was declared winner without the necessity of a playoff.
The Haases all owe an exceptional debt of gratitude to Bob Goalby, now 85 and happily pounding the Augusta fairways as he watches his nephew’s kid challenge for the family’s second Masters title.
Bob is famous in the family for something he claims he said to himself back in 1968 when, on the 18th and final hole of that controversial Masters, he stood over a nine-foot put that he desperately needed. We will use here the somewhat cleansed version Sports Illustrated went with:
“Step in there, you gutless choking [expletive] dog – and make this putt like a man!”
Bob Goalby handed the quote down for future use, and though Bill Haas did not say whether or not he had used it this Thursday, he did say “The putter kind of saved me.”
And, rather sweetly, it was a birdie putt on 18 – Great Uncle Bob’s triumphant final hole – that put him back to four-under and kept him in the lead.
One stroke back, at three-under, were three golfers of far more Masters experience: 2013 champion Adam Scott of Australia, 2012 champion Bubba Watson of the United States and 2012 runner-up Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa.
Scott had his game to four-under at one point but took a double-bogey on the par-3 12th when his tee shot found the water.
“I hit the one poor shot on 12, which obviously cost me a couple of shots,” Scott said. “But very pleased to get off to a good start.”
Scott said winning last year had him more comfortable at the start “than I’ve been in the past – because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes, like usual.”
In a moment of serendipity, tied in fifth place after shooting a two-under 70 was Kevin Stadler, son of Craig Stadler, the 1982 Masters champion. They became the first father-son combination to play in the same Masters event, though it could hardly be said they played at all the same. The elder Stadler ballooned to an 82.
“I’ll take 2-under all day every day for the rest of my life,” said the son.
“I played like a moron,” said the father. “My whole game stinks.”
Others at two-under included first-timer Johnny Walker, fellow Americans Gary Woodland and Brandt Snedeker, South Korean K. J. Choi and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who says he was a much better hockey player but kept playing golf instead of working out in summer.
At one point the 29-year-old Blixt was also at four-under but faltered over the final four holes and lipped out a par putt on 18 for his 70.
Like all players, Blixt found Augusta difficult, something that can only increase as the sun hardens the greens and pin placements become increasingly difficult.
“Every single shot can be the best shot of your life,” Blixt said, “and every single shot can be the worst shot of your life.”
At one-under par was Rory McIlroy, the popular Northern Ireland golfer whose final-round meltdown cost him the 2011 Masters title.
“The greens are firming up,” McIlroy said. “The wind was all over the place. Anything under par today was a good score.”
Also at one-under 71 was perennial patrons’ favourite Fred Couples, 54 years old and 22 years removed from his own Masters victory. With all the emphasis on youth at this tournament – 24 golfers playing their first Masters – there has been much speculation that this year’s green jacket may go to someone in his twenties.
“Can a 50-year-old win here?” Couples asked after his round. “I think so.”
Can a 20-year-old, though? Jordan Spieth was only 19 last year when he became the youngest PGA winner in 82 years. If he were to win at Augusta, the now-20-year-old would beat Tiger Woods, who won his first at 21 years, three months. Woods, of course, has had to skip this tournament following back surgery.
Speith began with promise, shooting a one-under-par 71.
Canada’s Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champions, finished with a one-over-par 73.
“It’s a brute of a course,” said Weir, who was fighting a bad cold, “a long, tough golf course. Anywhere around par is good.
“I’d have loved to be a couple better. I could have been a few better, but still a nice little round. ”
The same could not, unfortunately, be said for the only other Canadian in the field, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., who was playing in his very first Masters. DeLaet was six over through his opening nine and ended up with an eight-over-par 80.
“It just exposed me,” DeLaet said of the famous course. “It was tough. I got on the wrong side of the hole a few times.
“I just got behind the eight-ball early and wasn’t sharp by any means.”
DeLaet will now be hard pressed to make Friday’s cut for weekend play.
“It might be a total beast tomorrow, who knows?” he said with a smile.
“I had a great time out there – I mean, this is the Masters.”
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