CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Greeted by a morning chill, but embraced by a Carolina blue sky and afternoon warmth, they are off and swinging in the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club.
Though Tiger Woods has stayed on the sidelines to rest his left knee and Rory Sabbatini has helped drop a blanket of controversy over the proceedings with his reported childish behavior, there was plenty of golf action at one of the Tour’s premier venues.
1) AND FOR YOUR MUSICAL PLEASURE – You can sing this to the famed “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” children’s song:
“Here a Haas, there a Haas, everwhere a Haas . . . “
However, sing it like Tony Bennett to match the beauty with which Bill Haas performed his golf business in the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship. A two-putt birdie at the par-5 10th to start, an 8-foot birdie roll at his 17th hole and in between six others to shoot 8-under 64 and match the best opening round since this gem of a tournament made its debut in 2003.
The bogey-free effort vaulted Haas into a two-stroke lead over Jonathan Byrd and David Toms, neither of whom has ever been invited to a long drive competition, so the 7,469 yards at Quail Hollow hasn’t precluded the precision crowd from giving chase.
But more than that, Haas’ effort confirmed his passion for a club where his father, Jay, is a member, and a tournament history that has been jam-packed with the Haas boys.
Jay and son Bill both played in the first Quail Hollow tournament and then in 2004, Jay Haas was in the field with his brother, Jerry. Things got extremely fun in 2005 (Jay, Jerry and Billy all played) and 2006 (Jay and Billy played, as did Jay’s oldest son, Jay Jr.).
“Those years were fun,” Bill Haas said. “I wish we could do that every year.”
Alas, things aren’t quite the same. Jay Haas is a confirmed member of the Champions Tour, Jay Jr. is still a mini-tour guy, and Jerry Haas is quite content being the well-respected golf coach at Wake Forest.
OK, so Hunter Haas is in the field for a second time, but he’s no relation. To carry the honor for the Greenville (S.C.) Haas Chapter, it’s all on Bill’s shoulders, though it didn’t look like he felt the pressure.
“I’ve got good feelings around this place. I think everybody enjoys it, though, not just me,” said Bill, whose familiarity with Quail Hollow dates back to those childhood days when his dad would create something special. “It would be a trip, (dad) would say, ‘Let’s go play Quail.’ It was a bigger deal than just playing at home.”
It’s an even bigger deal when the score is 64.
2) DRIVER, WEDGE? NOT FOR HIM – He’s eight years older than when he won the first edition of this tournament in 2003. Today, he doesn’t hit the ball any further, and the course is longer. But if you think that spells trouble for Toms, think again. So long as he can nail those fairway woods, that is.
“It was awfully long,” Toms said.
How long was it? Consider that he had 266 yards into the third green, 226 into the fourth, a 238-yard tee shot at the par-3 sixth, then 236 yards into the ninth. What’s a guy who rates as one of the tour’s shortest hitters to do? Keep reaching for those fairway woods.
Fortunately, “I’ve always had a pretty good feel for these greens,” said Toms, whose lone bogey came when he missed the green right at the par-3 17th, pitched to 30 feet and two-putted.
Still, he was satisfied with his 6-under 66, which matches his low round of the year, and particularly pleased to have turned things around with two long shots – his tee ball at the 238-yard sixth that set up a 16-foot birdie, and a 3 hybrid from 212 yards that he turned into a 4-foot eagle at the par-5 seventh
3) LEFTY ENDS RIGHT – Sandwiching a pair of bogeys around a birdie on his fifth hole, Phil Mickelson’s day was struggling. Then he hit his second shot wide right and into water at the par-5 seventh.
Yes, it was early, but he needed a spark – which he got when he took a drop, hit a wedge from 77 yards, and then drained a 10-foot putt to save par.
“I think that kind of salvaged it,” Mickelson said.
Taking advantage of the positive move, Mickelson on each of the next four holes, rode home with seven pars to shoot 3-under 69.
4) SOME STRUGGLED – While 52 players broke par and 21 shot 69 or better, there were some who didn’t share in the good times.
Rory McIlroy, most notably.
With a bogey on a par 5 right out of the gates, McIlroy set in motion a lackluster day. He only made two birdies, both on par 5s, and with a round of 75 he was 13 strokes higher than what he had on his last visit to Quail Hollow. That memorable 62 gave him the 2010 title, but McIlroy will have to be nearly as effective Friday just to make the cut.
Nick Watney, who has made the cut in each of his six visits here, also had a rough day, turning in a one-birdie 76 alongside Mickelson and Gary Woodland, while Paul Casey, ranked eighth in the world, opened with a 78.
5) WHERE WAS THIS LAST YEAR? Unlike McIlroy, who wishes he started as he finished a year ago, Billy Mayfair might wonder what might have been had he played a fourth round like he did this year’s opening round.
Mayfair birdied three of his first eight holes to shoot 69 and oh, what he would have done for that a year ago.
Remember? He was a Monday qualifier when Mayfair put together three solid rounds to push to 9 under and pulled two ahead of Davis Love.
But with a chance to win his first tournament since 1998, Mayfair ballooned to 76 and dropped into a share of 14th, a whopping six behind McIlroy.
Were he allowed to substitute this year’s first round for last year’s fourth round, the 69 still wouldn’t give Mayfair the win. But at 12 under he would have finished at 276, solo second, and earned $702,000.
Alex Miceli contributed.