Haas still showing himself a player for the ages

At age 50 and on the verge of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Jay Haas' game is as good as ever. He showed it again Thursday with a superb opening round that would have been bogey-free if not for a three-putt from 50 feet on the par-3 17th.

HAVEN, Wis. (AP) -- At 50, Jay Haas isn't thinking about sending off for his AARP card or wondering about the senior tour. He's too busy whipping the whippersnappers.

Haas, who shot a 4-under-par 68 at the PGA Championship on Thursday, is trying to become the oldest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team and the oldest player ever to win a major.

He's 10th in the Ryder Cup points, right on the bubble for an automatic berth, and in position to at least dream about supplanting Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at San Antonio, as the oldest winner of a major.

His game is as good as it's ever been as evidenced by his superb opening round that would have been bogey-free if not for a three-putt from 50 feet on the par-3 17th.

"I played about as good as I can play from tee to greens," said Haas, who is competing in his 81st major, the most of anyone who hasn't won one. "I missed two greens and putted on both of those from the fringe, so I was very, very happy with that."

His first of five birdies came on the par-4 13th, his fourth hole, when he hit a 6-iron to four feet.

"The pin was in the back left over this knob and you have Lake Michigan to the right and the wind howling. That was my best shot of the day," Haas said.

His 8-foot putt for birdie on No. 16 was followed by his lone bogey, but he recovered with three birdies on the front side with putts from inside 10 feet.

Cheerful and congenial have always been his charm, but the spirited St. Louis native is especially easygoing nowadays thanks to a remarkable resurgence over the last year and a half.

He put new meaning into "golden years" when he won more than $2.5 million in 2003, by far the most of his career, and he's contending for a spot on his first Ryder Cup team since 1995.

He's been around so long he's even gotten to play with his son, Bill, who was the nation's top-ranked college golfer as a senior at Wake Forest this year before joining his father in the U.S. Open.

"Most kids can beat their dads, but I can't beat mine," Bill Haas said after his father shared the first-round lead at the Open, where they became the second father-son team to make the cut, joining Joe Kirkwood and Joe Kirkwood Jr. in 1948.

Jay Haas simply refuses to act his age. He traces his turnaround to a change in attitude and approach last year when he decided his career was in its twilight and he was going to stop to smell the fairways.

"I think I went into 2003 with kind of a 'Hey, this is my last go-around here at 49 and let's just see what happens and have some fun,"' Haas said. "You hear that all the time, and I don't think that that equates to great golf. (But) for me, I've been very relaxed.

"I probably had my best attitude consistently for the last couple of years on the golf course that I've ever had in my career. You know, good play then feeds that good attitude and vice versa," Haas said. "So, to have Bill playing in some of these events has been wonderful for me. I'm just having the time of my life."

The only thing missing from his terrific turnaround is a win, but he's not beating himself up over that.

"It's difficult to win out here, and I put myself into position a couple of times and haven't pulled it off," he said. "Being in the hunt at the U.S. Open was great. I felt like I should have won that tournament or given it a better chance than I did."

He finished tied for ninth, but he isn't looking back.

"I can't say, 'Well, I'm disappointed,' or 'I'm not disappointed' or content or not content," Haas said. "I guess it's not going to help me whether I feel one way or the other. I just need to go do it."

Haas doesn't fret over his inability to close out a major, where he owns 16 top-10 finishes, second only to Ed Dudley's 19 among players who have never kissed the trophy.

He won't have to end the streak to make the Ryder Cup team. A few more rounds like Thursday and he'll get another coveted chance at beating the Europeans.

"It's been my goal. I've stated that. I'm sure it's the goal of a lot of guys out here; they just haven't been as vocal about it," Haas said. "But I don't go into each round thinking I need to play well because of the Ryder Cup, or if I make a bogey, well, that's going to cost me the Ryder Cup, or if I make a birdie now I'm in good shape."

His view is simple: If he deserves to go, he will.

"I certainly can't wish good luck for me or bad luck for anybody else," Haas said. "I just have to take care of what I can do. But it's been fun to be able to even consider that, I guess, to just be in the hunt."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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