The Upshot: New caddie lends helping hand to Haas
2011 FedExCup champ leads after breaking 70 for first time at Masters
April 10, 2014
By Helen Ross, Mike McAllister and Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Bill Haas birdied the 18th hole to card a 4-under 68 at Augusta National on Thursday. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
MASTERS, RD. 1: Scores | Tee times | Course stats | Wrap-up | TOUR Report | Leader's bag | Projected FedExCup
PLAYER REPORTS: Adam Scott | Bubba Watson | Phil Mickelson | Gary Woodland | Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Five rounds together as a team and already two first-round leads. Bill Haas and Scott Gneiser certainly appear to be jelling in their player-caddie relationship of roughly 11 days.
On Thursday, Haas fired a 68 that left him with a one-stroke advantage 18 holes into the 78th Masters, a tournament his great uncle Bob Goalby won in 1968 and in which his father Jay and uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt also teed it up.
Haas' lineage is strong here. But Gneiser also has made his bones at Augusta National, caddying in the season's first major more than a dozen times -- and did we mention he was on David Toms' bag when he won the 2001 PGA Championship in nearby Atlanta?
Timing turned out to be everything in this relationship.
Gneiser's former boss, John Peterson, fired him after a second-round 79 and a missed cut at the Valspar Championship. Haas made the difficult decision to part ways with his brother Jay Jr. at the same tournament, although the player, who hasn't failed to play the weekend all year, tied for 14th there.
"I needed to switch it up," Haas said simply. "My brother has been on the bag a bunch for a few years, and I think I needed a change. (Scott) was available and has a major win. ... He's been under the gun, played a lot of big events. He's seen it. I don't think he can do anything but help me.
"I was lucky that he was available the next few weeks."
Gneiser, who caddied for Toms for 16 years, said Jay Jr. actually encouraged him to contact his brother. Haas said his brother was a "great caddie, adding he wouldn't be opposed to seeing him work for someone else, if that was what Jay Jr. wanted to do. But while Haas said "I don't think it's done -- no," when asked whether he and his brother had parted ways permanently, he's clearly interested in seeing what he and Gneiser can do.
On Thursday at Augusta National, Gneiser "helped me on every shot, I would say," the new boss reported. Haas said he feels comfortable with Gneiser, whom the five-time TOUR winner and former FedExCup champ, has known for many years.
"I don't think much different than I did with my brother but I do know that deep down, he's been under the gun a bunch of times with David and played in some Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups," Haas said. "He's seen a lot more pressure packed situations than a lot of caddies. So I certainly feel comfortable about that out there."
Gneiser says Bill is a lot like his father, a nine-time PGA TOUR champion and 16-time winner on the Champions Tour. The elder Haas played in 22 Masters, most recently in 2005, and posted five top-10 finishes, including a tie for third in 1995 when Bill was 12.
"Just two pleasant guys, two great guys," the caddie said. "It's pretty simple to get along with him off the course."
Gnesier has been impressed with how well Haas is playing -- and his resiliency when things have gone wrong. On Thursday, for example, bogeys at Nos. 1 and 17 were followed by bounce-back birdies on the way to Haas' first sub-70 round in 17 trips around Augusta National.
"I think his Dad's taught him a lot about the course," Gneiser said. "I think he's been around here a few times already. It really helps out. His dad's a good calming influence, too." -- Helen Ross
Interview: Bill Haas
Experience key at Augusta
AUGUSTA NATIONAL SHOWS TEETH: How difficult was the first day of the Masters?
There were twice as many scores in the 80s (eight) as there were in the 60s (four).
The last three major winners of 2013 -- Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner -- were a combined 16 over.
Mickelson had a pair of 7s on his scorecard and shot 76, the highest score of his career in the opening round of the Masters. Dufner made a 9 on the par-5 13th and shot 80, his worst score in 13 rounds at Augusta National by five strokes.
Amen Corner had players praying they could get through the tough stretch unscathed. Many didn't. Between 11 and 12 there were a combined eight birdies -- compared to 65 bogeys and 13 double bogeys or worse.
"The greens are as firm and fast as I've seen for a Thursday," said Brandt Snedeker, who shot a 2-under 70. "The wind changed 15 times today.
"This golf course is right on the edge, it's in perfect shape, and they got it exactly how they want it. The pin positions today were brutal. There was not one getable pin out there where you felt like you can make a birdie and get it going. You had to hit some quality golf shots to make birdies."
Some did, but the list was short.
The course played nearly 2 1/2 strokes over par and just 19 players finished in red numbers. Bubba Watson was the only player to go bogey-free, shooting 69 to get within one of the lead.
"The setup was much more difficult than it has been in the past," said Rory McIlroy, who never got lower than 2 under before finishing with a 71 after a bogey on the 18th. "Going (Friday) afternoon the greens are going to be firmer. I wouldn't mind if they were a little softer.
"It was a tough setup. I think that they really wanted to do that, they didn't want the scores to get too low."
Typically Thursday is one of the better days for scoring at Augusta National. Last year, for example, 33 players were under par and the lead was 6 under after the first round. -- Brian Wacker
ROOKIES CAN FINALLY EXHALE: Two dozen players made their Masters debuts on Thursday. That means 24 nervous tee shots on the first hole.
"Definitely felt a little jitters," FedExCup points leader Jimmy Walker said.
"Quite nervous," added Steven Bowditch, the Valero Texas Open winner.
"Had a blackout," joked Michael McCoy, in the field thanks to his U.S. Mid-Amateur win.
While that opening shot at Augusta National can be intimidating, several Masters newbies acquitted themselves pretty well on Thursday.
Walker, Kevin Stadler and Jonas Blixt each shot 2-under 70s, putting them tied for fifth. Jordan Spieth and Stephen Gallacher were in the next group back at 1 under.
The 20-year-old Spieth said as he walked up to his opening tee ball and visualized his shot, a big smile crossed his face. "I just soaked it in," Spieth said. "It was really cool."
Stadler is more aware of the Masters experience, thanks to his dad Craig, the 1982 Masters winner. But until Thursday, Kevin had never stood on the first teebox to start a round.
Asked where his ball ended it, Kevin replied, "In the fairway -- just not very far." -- Mike McAllister
ODDS AND ENDS: Jason Day, who has finished inside the top 3 in two of the last three Masters, opened with a 75 that included a four-putt at 10. "Got to kind of work out the kinks with the putter," he said. ... Another pre-tournament favorite, Sergio Garcia, had six bogeys and four birdies in a roller-coaster round. "Got to keep the scorecard cleaner than that," he said. ...
2011 Masters champ Bubba Watson had a bogey-free 69, leading the field in greens in regulation by hitting 16 greens. He was 3-1/2 feet away from being a perfect 18 for 18. "I missed one by six inches, missed one by 3 feet," Watson said. ...
Keegan Bradley has played nine rounds in his Masters career. He's double-bogeyed the par-4 No. 1 four times, and has twice bogeyed it. "I hit a perfect drive, kind of left it out to the right, kind of flubbed my chip, double," Bradley said. "It happens pretty quick on that hole." ...
Defending champion Adam Scott's 69 is his fifth round in the 60s in his last six rounds at Augusta National. Just five other golfers in Masters history recorded five sub-70 rounds in a six-round span: Jack Nicklaus (three times, last in 1975-1976); Tom Watson (1977-1979); Jose Maria Olazabal (1993-1995); Greg Norman (1995-1996); and Tiger Woods (twice, 2000-2001 and 2001-2002). -- Mike McAllister
STATS LEADERS IN FIRST ROUND
Category Leader Stat Driving distance
305.0 yards Fairway accuracy Hideki Matsuyama 14 of 14
Greens in regulation Bubba Watson
16 of 18
Total putts Charl Schwartzel 24 Most birdies Bill Haas, Louis Oosthuizen, Jonas Blixt, Jimmy Walker
THEY SAID IT
"I've got a lot of work to do tomorrow just to make the cut. So I've got some issues." -- Phil Mickelson after shooting a 4-over 76 that included a triple-bogey 7 and a double-bogey 7
"At the end of the day, you really shouldn't be hitting it in the pine needles." -- Steven Bowditch, who called a penalty on himself after his ball moved on the ninth hole
"Can a 50-year-old win here? I think so." -- 54-year-old Fred Couples, who opened with a 1-under 71
"I played like a moron." -- 1982 Masters champ Craig Stadler, who shot an 82
"He's more of a football/soccer fan, and I'm more of a football/football fan." -- Jordan Spieth, discussing playing partner Rory McIlroy
THIS NEVER GETS OLD: Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial opening tee shots of the 2014 Masters ...