As Bill Haas found the top of the Masters leaderboard, he had a new source of help. He also avoided the trouble that struck several notables Thursday at Augusta National.
Here are 5 Things to know from the first round of the Masters.
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1. HAAS’ NEW CADDIE: Scott Gneiser started his Masters career at Augusta National in 1990 on Andy North’s bag. After a short hiatus, he returned with David Toms for 15 of the 16 years on his bag.
By his own account, Gneiser – who just a month ago was on John Peterson’s bag – has made the trip to Augusta National 15 or so times and has learned a lot during those visits.
Which is one of the reasons Bill Haas hired Gneiser just before the Shell Houston Open, firing his brother Jay Jr.
“He was available and has a major win, he’s been under the gun, played a lot of big events,” Haas said of Gneiser. “He’s seen it. I don’t think he can do anything but help me and I just like him. He seems to be – he’s a great guy. I’ve known him since I’ve been out here and he’s always been nice to me. I was lucky that he was available the next few weeks.”
Peterson sacked Gneiser after missing the cut at the Valspar Championship near Tampa four weeks ago. Two days later, Haas winless in the 2014 season fired his brother after finishing T-14 in the Valspar.
Jay Haas Jr. saw Gneiser on Sunday after Haas’s round and told him he thought he had just gotten fired as well and then called him later that night and confirmed his firing to Gneiser.
“ ‘I think you’d be perfect for Bill. Here’s his number. You give him a call or a text ,’ ” Gneiser recalls Jay Jr. mentioning. “That’s what I did, I texted him and kind of pursued it, but I don’t think many people knew about it.”
Over a week later, Gneiser received a call from Haas and thought it was a call to tell him he had found someone else. But the veteran caddie was surprised when Haas told him his schedule for the next few weeks.
Gneiser said it is taking some adjustment time to get used to Haas’s game. But each of the last two weeks, they have led after the first round. At Shell last week, Haas shot 65-74-76-72 to finish T-37, so both player and caddie are hoping for a little better performance this week.
“I’d say we’re still in our honeymoon phase, so it’s kind of one of those things where it’s good, and it’s probably good for him and good for me,” Gneiser said. “If something goes wrong, we just kind of shake it off and get to the next hole instead of going nuts on each other out there.”
Haas said he and his brother Jay Jr. needed a little break and it was not likely a permanent one, but in the same breath Haas also said that if his brother found another bag he was fine with it.
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2. REED’S HOMECOMING: For most of the 2014 season, everything has gone right for Patrick Reed: three wins in his last nine months, including the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month.
Unfortunately for Reed, his game turned dramatically in the other direction Thursday as a poor ball-striking day tallied up to a 1-over 73 in the first round of his first career major.
“I didn’t hit a single solid golf shot – I take that back, I hit one solid golf shot and that was on 14,” Reed said after a round that included three birdies and four bogeys. “But besides that, everything was either thin or low and unsolid; driver was off the heel, off the toe. Didn’t hit any fairways.” (Statistics showed he hit seven.)
As bad as Reed felt he was hitting the ball, he was still 2 under going into the par-3 16th hole, but three consecutive bogeys sealed his fate on Thursday and drove him not to the driving range, but back to his rental house to rest.
“I just kept on leaving myself on the wrong side of the hole,” Reed said. “I misjudged the wind on two holes early, and one of them ended up being a three‑putt and the other one ended up fine and just two‑putted for par, but besides that, I just have to get back and do my drills at home, and I’ll be ready for tomorrow. It was just one of those days.”
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3. EVERY’S DETOUR: Slow play is on everyone’s mind recently, but Matt Every, one of the fastest players on the PGA Tour, has never had problems with speed of play until Thursday.
Every was getting relief from a temporary immovable obstruction (grandstand) on the 14th hole. He took his first drop by the green and the ball rolled closer to the stands, so he went to drop it again; before he could do that, the referee stepped in and said he was unsure if his course of action was correct and wanted to get a second opinion.
The second referee affirmed what Every knew was correct: Take a second drop and if it rolls closer to the obstruction he would then place the ball where it first touched the ground for full relief.
On the next hole, the 15th, Every, Mike Weir and Roberto Castro were put on the clock, arguably because the drop process took too long and put the group out of position.
“So then the next hole, they put us on the clock because it took two extra minutes,” Every said. “It was just a really weird situation, and if you want to look at my ShotLink profile the last two years, I’ve been No. 1 in pace of play on Tour, so it just makes zero sense to me.”
Unlike the PGA Tour pace-of-play policy that allows for 40 seconds to play a stroke and then an extra 20 seconds or a total of 60 seconds in certain situations, the pace-of-play policy for the Masters is a set 40 seconds to take a shot.
“Well, it was my incident,” Every said for the reason the group was potentially behind. “Neither one of the guys I played with are slow. I don’t think so. And it’s a tough course. There are shots out here that you need a little extra time.”
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4. WOOSNAM’S SHORT-LIVED LIFT: Ian Woosnam, the 1991 champion, tried to turn the clock back in Thursday’s first round.
A birdie 4, on the par 5, second hole saw Woosnam’s name on the leaderboard for the first time in a long time and when he turned at even-par 36, the Welshman was on his way to his first round of even-par or better since 2008, when he last made the cut.
But a double-bogey 7 at the back-end of Amen Corner and then a bogey 6 at the par five, 15th hole sent the round into a tailspin that Woosnam could not recover from shooting a 5-over, 41 on the back nine and a 77 for the round.
“I was really enjoying it until I took a 7 at No. 13,” Woosnam said of his first round. “I was really enjoying it, and then I just sort of got tired at the end. I haven’t played since last September, so (I’m) out of match fitness, really.”
Woosnam, 56, also talked about the difficulty of playing the course with a bad left hip, which becomes even more difficult when you have consistently uneven lies and pine straw to deal with.
It was the pine straw that made the difference on the 13th hole.
“I hit it in the trees and I had 219 to the front off that pine straw, and I had to go for it,” Woosnam said of his drive on the 13th hole. “Tried to cut it, slipped a little bit and lost my ball and took a seven. And I didn’t recover after that, really.”
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5. SIMPSON’S NEAR TURNAROUND: Webb Simpson has never had much success at Augusta National. In his limited career of six Masters rounds he missed the cut last year and finished T-44 in 2012 while failing to break 70.
All that looked like it was going to change when Simpson birdied the first three holes, including his first time birdieing No. 1.
But mistakes on Nos. 5 and 15 took a 3-under start and converted it into a 2-over finish.
“I looked at all the pins before I played, and a lot of tough pins today, a lot of tough pins,” Simpson said after his round. “I figured it was going to be a challenge all day, but you know, when you start off 3‑under at Augusta, you cannot make double, so then I made two of them. But I don’t think I’m out of it yet.”