AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Bill Haas is playing his fifth Masters, but he knows Augusta National almost as well as most members.
Great-uncle Bob Goalby won the 1968 Masters and often tells Bill: “You’re a better player than the scores you shoot.”
Bill first played the course in high school. And he often accompanied his father, Jay Haas, who played in 22 Masters.
“I wasn't interested in the Masters,” Bill said. “I was interested in my dad's score at the Masters, if that makes sense.”
Bill’s first-round score garnered plenty of interest, given that he was the clubhouse leader after firing a 4-under 68.
Defending champion Adam Scott was one back, as were Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson, and several players were at 2-under.
Phil Mickelson is 3-over through eight holes, as Augusta National is playing tough despite seemingly good scoring conditions.
Haas closed out his round by making a five-foot birdie after hitting a crisp 8-iron.
Scott birdied the first, sixth, eighth and 10th holes before hitting into the water on the par-3 12th. He bounced back with a birdie on the 14th and ended his day a stroke behind Haas.
Louis Oosthuizen also was at 3-under through 15 holes.
Earlier Thursday, even at age 78, it was clear that Gary Player still has a little pop left in his driver. Or maybe it was just the aura at Augusta National that brought out Player’s best.
Whatever the case, the man who has participated in the Masters more than anyone else – 52 appearances between 1957 and 2009 – delivered a pretty swing and a straight drive off the first tee, contributing to the ceremonial stage he shared with fellow legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Just like that, the 78th Masters was underway and the buzz from golf’s most revered tournament had elevated.
“It’s something that’s hard to explain,” Player said, “the great nerves that one receives on this first tee, with all the spectators. And having been here for 57 years, I think you enjoy it more and more every time you come here. It’s a very special place.”
When the real competition began, it was another former champion, 56-year-old Ian Woosnam, recording the tournament’s first birdie. And suddenly, the Masters was in full swing, the stage set for an action-packed event with a highly competitive field. The history, the ambience, the buzz, according to Rory McIlroy, is why the Masters remains such a grand event, “the most anticipated week of the year.”
“It’s been eight months since we had a major,” McIlroy said. “It’s Augusta. Even though the season started, it feels like a long time ago -- this is sort of the official start of the golf season to more of the general public.”