The 2004 Senior PGA Championship
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Haas makes marathon senior debut a dandy
Jay Haas carded six birdies and a double-bogey en route to his opening 67.(Photo: Getty Images)

Haas makes marathon senior debut a dandy

Senior rookie Jay Haas entered the 65th Senior PGA Championship as one of the favorites and he didn't disappoint, shooting a rain-interrupted 67 to tie Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan for the first-round lead.

By Bob Denney, PGA of America

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jay Haas had to wait 22 hours before completing his first round as a member of the Champions Tour and his debut in the 65th Senior PGA Championship.

Haas, who has been a tour de force on the PGA Tour in a bid to become the oldest player to earn a U.S. Ryder Cup berth, made the most of his time in and around the Valhalla Golf Club clubhouse.

"The delay helped me," Haas said after posting a 4-under-par 67, which tied him with veterans Hale Irwin, Gil Morgan and Tom Watson in the marathon, weather-delayed first round of the most prestigious and oldest event in senior golf. "But, I don't know if I would have done that (good) if we played in the morning."

Haas, who turned 50 last Dec. 2, said he ate several times, did some crossword puzzles, worked out, chatted with his friends and practiced his putting. It was the right formula to keep pace with Irwin, Watson and Morgan, who birdied three of his final four holes before a closing bogey on the difficult 415-yard, uphill par-4 ninth, the toughest hole on the course.

Irwin and Watson finished their rounds Thursday afternoon.

The opening round didn't resume until 4:30 p.m. Friday, and didn't conclude until 6:51 p.m. Flooding of Floyd's Fork Creek on the front nine forced a suspension of play until the sun finally peered through the clouds and the water began to recede.

"The delay was very tiring from one aspect," said Morgan, who is making his seventh Senior PGA appearance. "I came out at 6 a.m., and was going to have to come back at 6:25 p.m. this afternoon. I think it's the worst part of the split."

Seven players were two strokes back at 69, a group that included Dave Barr, Mark James, Wayne Levi, Mike McCullough, Jay Sigel, Craig Stadler and D.A. Weibring. Twenty players in the 156-player field managed to break par on a 6,990-yard layout that yielded a 75.43 scoring average.

Haas birdied two of his final three holes after the restart of the opening round, and almost holed a birdie on the ninth hole.

"Overall, I can't be more pleased," said Haas. "I hit a lot of good shots. I had a great day with Craig (Stadler) and Fuzzy (Zoeller). I couldn't ask for two better guys to play with."

Haas said that he didn't feel that differently among Champions Tour partners than competing on the PGA Tour.

"To me, this tournament doesn't feel any different from a regular Tour event," he said. "There's enough Hall of Fame players up there that are capable of doing what I'm doing on the regular Tour. I kind of laughed when I saw I was the favorite, not one of the favorites. I came out here yesterday and Hale Irwin and Tom Watson were on top of the leaderboard. That, to me, is no different than the last 30 years."

The second round began at 5:45 p.m., for players who did not play in the morning groups on Thursday. The second round is scheduled to resume Saturday at 7:30 a.m.

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Jack Nicklaus, who was paired with Watson and defending champion John Jacobs, birdied his first hole, No. 10, before stumbling to a 4-over 75. Jacobs also struggled, shooting 74.

The start of the tournament was delayed two hours after an overnight storm dumped more than an inch of rain. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls because of the dampness of the fairways.

The weather may continue to be a factor through the weekend. The National Weather Service in Louisville forecast a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday through Sunday.

As the tournament began, senior tour rookie Jay Haas was considered the favorite.

A regular on the PGA Tour, the 50-year-old Haas isn't used to being the man to beat.

"Somebody asked me when was the last time I was a pre-tourney favorite, and I said, 'Maybe never.' When I was 12 in a junior event," said Haas, who has four top 10 finishes on the regular PGA Tour this year.

Haas is 12th in the Ryder Cup points standings and is trying to become the oldest player to qualify for the prestigious international event.

He won't earn any points even if he wins at Valhalla this week and considered playing instead at this week's regular tour stop, in Memphis, Tenn.

"I guess I feel like if I am going to put the time in, I ought to try to play in tournaments that I can get points for the Ryder Cup," Haas said. "But I don't want to second-guess myself and say, 'Gosh, I should have gone to Memphis.' I feel like I'm going to play enough events on the regular tour that if I play well enough, I'll get the points."

Haas is one seven players who competed in the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships at Valhalla. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course has been slightly adjusted for the seniors.

Nine fairway bunkers have been added, and the course will play 177 yards shorter than it did in 2000, when Tiger Woods defeated Bob May in a riveting playoff.

The second hole, a 535-yard par-5 four years ago, will play as a 455-yard par-4 this week and drop the course's par to 71. The hole was the easiest in 2000, yielding 180 birdies, and the players seeing it again don't like the new look.

"I think it makes a better par-5 than a par-4. The green sets up better for it," said 2001 Senior PGA champion Tom Watson.

Nicklaus, who approved the PGA-recommended alterations, had not seen them until he played a practice round on Wednesday. He only got in nine holes before a thunderstorm washed out afternoon play.

If one senior knows the course better than its designer, it's 2002 champion Fuzzy Zoeller, who lives about 40 miles away in Floyds Knobs, Ind., and plays Valhalla three or four times a year.

Hundreds of fans followed Zoeller during a practice round on Wednesday. Zoeller doesn't see much of an edge playing so close to home.

"The one positive is sleeping in your own bed, that's kind of nice," he said. "Now, if I play poorly, you can blame it on my wife, Diane, and the kids, you know?"

The rains won't ruin John Jacobs' week. The defending tournament champion was star-struck at a dinner honoring former winners on Tuesday night.

"I usually don't have a problem talking, and I kind of looked at Nicklaus and (Arnold) Palmer, and I thought, 'What am I doing up here?"' he said. "It was kind of a special feeling."

Irwin was the last player to repeat as a Senior PGA champion, winning three in a row from 1996 to '98.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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