AUGUSTA, Ga. - Bill Haas knows there are no free passes at the Masters. He learned that the hard way when he was in junior high, riding to Augusta National with his father Jay, who played in 22 Masters.
"It was spring break, I guess, and he had been there since Tuesday, hanging out with me," Jay said Thursday, after having watched Bill, now 31, shoot 4-under-par 68 and take the first-round lead. "He said to me, 'Dad, do I need my ticket again today?' We were almost to the gate and I said, 'Oh boy.' We had to turn around."
Bill has brought the right credentials ever since. These days, what gets him in is a solid career. Rather than a ticket, he carries the hope of winning a major, which Jay never did despite his own accomplished body of work. The younger Haas obviously has a long way to go, but so far, so good. He overcame a bogey on No. 17 by firing a stellar 8-iron shot within five feet on 18 and sank the birdie putt on a day when conditions were perfect.
That left Haas one shot ahead of the previous two Masters champions, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, and 2012 runner-up Louis Oosthuizen. He is two strokes ahead of a group that includes Kevin Stadler. The latter represents one of the week's compelling story lines because he is half of the first father-son duo ever to play in the same Masters.
In a way, Jay is envious of Craig Stadler, his fellow Champions Tour player who gets to return here every year because he won the 1982 Masters. "I'd still love to play, but I never could play very well at this place," Jay said on the course where he placed third after having led after the first two rounds in 1995.
Still, Haas finds watching easier than playing at Augusta. He slept soundly Wednesday night. "I had a great day out there," he said Thursday afternoon. "I don't get too nervous for him. I guess I know how hard it is out there."
While the Stadlers' father-son scenario was unique here, it struck a familiar chord for the Haases. At Shinnecock Hills during the 2004 U.S. Open, Jay began with one of his best career rounds at a major, earning a share of the first-round lead in the morning. Then he spent the afternoon with his wife and daughters watching Bill play his second Open. At the time, the dad said he happily would finish second to his son.
That is a way of saying their relationship isn't as edgy as the Stadlers' is. ("I'm here and he's there and we never cross paths," said the elder Stadler, who is divorced from Kevin's mom.)
Bill Haas has only good memories of coming to Augusta as a kid, and caddying one year because his older brother Jay Jr. was sick.
"I do know that there are times when I'm like, 'I wish my dad could hit this shot for me,' " the leader said. "He's the person I idolized, golf-wise. I loved watching him compete, loved watching him play. I got such a rise, seeing him on the leader board."
But no golfer's life is perfect. There was the water ball on No. 15 in 1995 that cost Jay the title he dearly wanted ever since he accompanied his uncle Bob Goalby, the 1968 winner here, into the champions locker room. And every family has its rough spots: Bill recently fired Jay Jr. as his caddie. "Things can get stale after a while," Jay Sr. said.
Things seemed fresh Thursday, when Bill's mom stayed behind at the rented house to baby-sit so his wife and his dad could watch the golf. They made sure they had the right badges to get inside the gate.