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Bill Haas off to good start at Masters

Bill Haas woke up last Friday morning as the leader of the Houston Open. He would eventually finish 37th.

So forgive Haas if he’s not feeling terribly secure about the one-shot lead he holds over Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen after Thursday’s first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Haas, a Charlotte native who played collegiately at Wake Forest, shot a 4-under-par 68, a round that featured six birdies and two bogeys.

After which he took a cautionary stance.

“I know there’s tons of golf left,” said Haas, who lives in Greenville, S.C. “I was leading last week, so I know. (I’ve got) an understanding that I know I can’t expect too much. You’ve just got to go out there and keep playing golf.”

On a sun-splashed day that dried Augusta’s greens to a diabolical crisp, Haas controlled a leader board that includes the past two Masters champs (Scott and Watson), as well as a former British Open winner (Oosthuizen), right behind him.

Two strokes back at 70 is a six-player pack of Gary Woodland, K.J. Choi, Brandt Snedeker and Masters rookies Jonas Blixt, Kevin Stadler and Jimmy Walker.

“The golf course is right on the edge,” said Snedeker. “It’s in perfect shape and they got it exactly how they want it.”

Haas, 31, knows how to win tournaments. He’s done so five times in his nine-year career as a pro, most recently at the AT&T National in 2013. He grew up in one of golf’s most prominent families: his dad Jay was a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour, great-uncle Bob Goalby won the Masters in 1968 and two other uncles – Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt – also played at Augusta.

Bill Haas, however, has not fared particularly well in his four previous Masters, with a tie for 20th in 2013 his best finish.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” said Haas. “Putting, golf shots, nerves, all the things that get you.

“I do feel certainly (more comfortable) … it’s on the same course every year. But, I’ll tell you what, you still get anxious on the first tee.”

That might be why Haas hit a poor iron on the first hole, leading to a bogey 5. He settled down after that, with 34s on each side. His other bogey didn’t come until No. 17.

Scott’s Masters victory last year alleviated the first-hole jitters that might have bothered Haas.

“There’s no doubt winning the Masters made me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been,” said Scott. “I didn’t have the legs shaking and the nerves jangling for six or seven holes as usual.”

His only misstep came on the short par-3 12th, where he hit a 9-iron off the tee and into Rae’s Creek, which runs in front of the green. After taking a penalty shot, Scott missed a 4-foot putt and finished with a double-bogey.

Scott said he received a standing ovation from the gallery as he approached the tee box at No. 12, the second hole of Augusta National’s Amen Corner.

“It was great, the level of respect that everyone has for this golf tournament and what happens here,” he said. “Then I hit it in the water.”

Watson, the 2012 winner, had a bogey-free round. Birdies on Nos. 3, 13 and 15 have him in contention.

“I’m coming back with the take that I want the (green) jacket again,” said Watson. “I had it. There’s so much you’re doing when you’re the defending champ and my mind couldn’t handle it. Adam seems to be doing pretty well with it.”

Only one golfer in history – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 – has won the Masters on his first try. Stadler, Blixt and Walker are in position to become the second.

“I’ll take a 2-under all day, every day for the rest of my life,” said Stadler.

Another first-timer, Jordan Spieth, shot a 1-under 71 and is three shots behind Haas.

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