Bill Haas has a first-round lead for the second straight week, sitting one stroke ahead of defending champion Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and 2012 winner Bubba Watson at golf’s Masters Tournament.
Haas tied his career-low in a major championship with a 4-under-par 68 yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. It was the first time in 17 Masters rounds that Haas has shot in the 60s.
“I was leading last week after the first round and finished 37th,” said Haas, who followed up his first-round 65 at the Houston Open with scores of 74, 76 and 72. “So I know -- very recently -- there’s tons of golf left.”
Since 1985, Trevor Immelman in 2008 was the only first-round leader or co-leader who’s gone on to win the Masters, the first of the season’s four major championships. Haas starts his second round today at 1:15 p.m. local time.
Trailing Haas, whose best finish in four previous Masters appearances was a tie for 20th last year, are three players who have been atop the leaderboard at Augusta in recent years.
Scott shot a 3-under 69 yesterday, the same start he had a year ago when he got Australia’s breakthrough win at the Masters. He made five birdies, with his lone mistake on the 12th hole, a par-3 where his tee shot spilled back down a bank in front of the green into Rae’s Creek. No Masters champion has made worse than a bogey on any hole since Immelman in 2008.
Even with the two dropped shots, Scott is the first defending champion with an opening-round score in the 60s since Vijay Singh in 2000. Scott said winning last year made him more comfortable early in the round than he’s ever been.
“Getting off to a good start in a major is huge, because I think they are the hardest tournaments to kind of chase,” said Scott, who has today’s next-to-last tee time at 1:48 p.m. “Birdies aren’t that easy to come by usually at majors, and if you’re six back, five back, 10 back after the first round, it’s a hard three days in front of you to peg it back. So to get off to a good start is key.”
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson was among those who didn’t get off to a good start, matching his worst opening round in 23 appearances with a 4-over-par 76. He took three putts from five feet for a triple-bogey 7 on the seventh hole and double-bogeyed the par-5 15th after hitting into a pond.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do just to make the cut,” said Mickelson, who starts at 10:30 a.m. with Justin Rose and Ernie Els “So I’ve got some issues.”
Watson, who beat Oosthuizen in a playoff at the 2012 Masters, recorded his second bogey-free round in 25 career major tournament appearances. Oosthuizen had three bogeys and six birdies, including one at the 18th hole.
Masters rookies Kevin Stadler, Jimmy Walker and Jonas Blixt of Sweden were among those to open with 70s yesterday and are two shots behind Haas. They’re also among a record 24 first-time Masters participants in the tournament.
Walker, who has three U.S. PGA Tour wins this season, birdied four of the final five holes after making two bogeys from holes 11 to 13 -- a stretch known as Amen Corner.
K.J. Choi of South Korea, Marc Leishman of Australia and Americans Gary Woodland and Brandt Snedeker also shot 70.
Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer and a four-time champion, isn’t in the field for the first time in 20 years following surgery on a pinched nerve in his back. His absence left Scott and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland as the pre-tournament favorites with 10-1 odds, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook. McIlroy had a three-putt bogey at the 18th hole yesterday to finish with a 1-under 71.
McIlroy said afterward the course set-up for the opening round was challenging, with pin positions that were difficult to get close to with approach shots.
“For the most part I felt like I put my ball in the positions they needed to be in and it was just one of those days it was tough to get it close to the hole,” McIlroy said. “The greens are firming up. The wind was all over the place. Anything under par was a good score.”
Nineteen of the 97 players in the field shot below par on day one, including 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, who carded a 71. Also at 1-under par are fellow Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, and Italy’s Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari.
Branden Grace of South Africa had an 84 for the highest first-round score. Jason Dufner, last year’s PGA Championship winner, opened with an 80, as did Canada’s Graham DeLaet. Grace will tee off in today’s second group at 7:56 a.m. local time.