Friday October 9th, 2015 11:46PM

Haas grabs Masters lead with 68, Scott in the mix

By The Associated Press
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AUGUSTA -- With dad in his ear, Bill Haas turned in the best round of his Masters career Thursday.

Now he wants to do what his father never could - finish the job.

Haas birdied the final hole for a 4-under 68, the first time he has broken 70 in five appearances at Augusta National.

"I knew that stat before today's round, so to shoot that score was pretty good," the 31-year-old American said. "I had some nice putts, a couple of 20 footers. Sometimes, you're happy to two-putt those. To have those go in can certainly swing your score one way or another."

Haas' father, Jay, played in the Masters 22 times, his five top-10 finishes topped by a tie for third in 1995.

Jay never won a major, though.

Maybe his son can take care of that.

"We're staying together this week. He's on the range with me in the morning," Bill Haas said. "It's great having him at home and on the range."

Defending champion Adam Scott was off to a strong start in his quest to stay dressed in green despite a stumble in Amen Corner, while a trio of Augusta rookies showed no sense of awe in their Masters debuts.

Scott shook off a double-bogey at the par-3 12th, a tiny little hole in Amen Corner that caused big trouble for a number of players. The Aussie bounced back with a birdie at the 14th and finished with a 69, one shot off the lead.

In contrast to Haas, it was the fifth time in his last six Augusta rounds that Scott has scored under 70, showing he still has the game to make a run at being the first back-to-back Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002. Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo are the only other repeat champions in the tournament's 81-year history.

As an added bonus, if Scott finishes no worse than a tie for third place, he will take over the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for the first time in his career.

What he really wants is another green jacket.

Playing in their first Masters, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler of the U.S. and Sweden's Jonas Blixt were among those shooting 70, making their way around the course just fine despite some unfamiliarity with the historic layout.

They are among a record two dozen Augusta rookies in the field, which doesn't include four-time winner Woods, out of the game until summer as he recovers from back surgery.

"I kept it in play and hit a bunch of greens and kept away from the three-putts, so it was a good thing," Stadler said.

Gary Woodland and Brandt Snedeker of the U.S. also opened at 70, as did K.J. Choi of South Korea. Fifty-four-year-old Fred Couples opened with a 71.

Stadler is part of the first father-son duo to play the Masters together. His dad, Craig, was the 1982 champion, while Kevin earned a spot in the field with his first PGA Tour victory at Phoenix.

The elder Stadler didn't fare nearly as well as his son. Craig opened with an 82 in what he has said will likely be his farewell as a Masters competitor.

"I played like a moron," Craig Stadler said.

The 35-year-old Walker is having a breakout year on the PGA Tour, picking up the first three victories of his career. He kept up his strong play at Augusta, where ripped off a run of four straight birdies starting at the 14th.

Among those with afternoon tee times: Phil Mickelson, attempting to join Woods and Arnold Palmer with a fourth green jacket. But that bid got off to a rocky start when Lefty shot a triple-bogey 7 at the seventh, his worst score ever at the hole nicknamed "Pampas."

The tournament began with Nicklaus, Palmer and Gary Player hitting ceremonial tee shots on a brisk, sunny morning. The "Big Three" combined to win 13 green jackets, including seven in a row at the start of the 1960s.

This Masters is far less predictable. Without Woods or a dominant figure in golf, it's seen as the most wide-open tournament in years.

"It's a huge loss," Scott said of Woods' absence. "But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it. It's not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway."
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