New caddie helps Haas to Masters lead

New caddie helps Haas to Masters lead

April 11th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Bill Haas hits off the 15th fairway during the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Augusta, Ga.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Bill Haas and his brother ended their player-caddie relationship less than a month ago.

It seemed to be a surprise at the time. After all, Jay Haas Jr. handed his brother the wedge he hit out of the water to within two feet of the hole to win the FedEx Cup championship in 2011, and their family has an illustrious history in the game dating back to the 1960s.

But their days together on the course, even a course as gorgeous as Augusta National on a perfect spring day with warm temperatures and a slight breeze, are over for now.

With the assistance of veteran caddie Scott Gneiser -- who was on the bag for David Toms' 2001 PGA Championship victory -- Bill Haas is in the lead after the first day of the Masters.

"I needed to switch it up," he said. "My brother has been on the bag a bunch for a few years, and I think I needed a change. I was lucky that [Gneiser] was available the next few weeks."

Haas, who never led after any round in a major tournament until Thursday, shot a 4-under-par 68 in opening his second tournament with Gneiser.

"At Tampa, I got fired on Friday from John Peterson, and Jay said, 'I got fired, too,' and that was on Sunday," Gneiser said. "He called me back later and said, 'I think you'd be perfect for Bill.'

"So I texted him and pursued it."

Their pursuit of a green jacket will continue today with 25 golfers within four shots of the lead, highlighted by a decorated trio one shot back: defending champion Adam Scott, 2012 champion Bubba Watson and 2012 runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

Scott made five birdies but lost two strokes on the par-3 12th when his tee shot found Rae's Creek.

"I was really happy with the way I played tee to green. It was really how you come out and play at any major," Scott said. "I was swinging well, and I messed up there [at 12]."

Oosthuizen also had trouble with No. 12, hitting his tee shot in the creek and carding a bogey. He had two others and six birdies, including one on the last hole.

"It was great fun out there," Oosthuizen said. "I tried to smile my troubles away when it got difficult. I've been feeling this round coming."

Watson had similar confidence in the only bogey-free round on a day with swirling winds and 48 double-bogeys or worse. That didn't matter to Watson.

"I'm coming back with the take that I want the jacket again," Watson said. "I'm coming back with a different mindset, full of energy. I haven't had any media this week, because nobody cares about the guy a couple of years ago."

The list of seven players two strokes behind Haas includes Jonas Blixt, Gary Woodland, Jimmy Walker, K.J. Choi, Brandt Snedeker and Mark Leishman.

Compared to Haas, the trio in second place -- Scott, Watson and Oosthuizen -- have the experience on the course, in this major and in playoffs in this championship.

Haas's personal-best experience in four previous Augusta trips is a tie for 20th last year. That's where Gneiser's experience becomes helpful.

"I started off with Andy North in [19]90, and he taught me an awful lot about this place," Gneiser said. "It took a while to get back here, but I remember a lot of the things he told me.

"David Toms is such a good plodder of the course, he taught me a lot about that, too."

Haas bogeyed the first hole, bounced back with a birdie, scored another on No. 4 and then made a momentum-saving up-and-down on No. 5.

"I fatted an iron shot just short of the green and pitched it by about 12 feet, and made that for par," Haas said. "That stretch of holes there ... the putter kind of saved me and settled me down.

"The rest of the day I felt like I played pretty solid."

Personal experience at Augusta may be lacking for Haas, but the tradition like any other has been passed down through uncles and his father.

Bob Goalby, Haas's great-uncle, won the 1968 Masters. Haas's father, Jay, played in 22 Masters from 1976 to 2005. His uncle Jerry Haas played in 1985, and his mother's brother, Dillard Pruitt, played in the 1992 and 1993 tournaments.

But only Bill Haas is inside the ropes this week.

"No certain reason why my brother is not working and why Scotty is working," he said. "It's just the way it is right now."

Thursday at least, that way worked better than all others.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.