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"I think this might be the hardest set up for a major tournament on the Champions Tour that I've played," Jay Haas said after Thursday's opening round at Oak Hill.(Photo: The PGA of America)

Despite sloppy finish, Haas happy with opening 69

By Lauren Deason, PGATOUR.COM Editorial Coordinator

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- He's the reigning Champions Tour Player of the Year, won the 2006 Senior PGA Championship and tied for fifth at the 2003 PGA Championship, the last major held at Oak Hill Country Club.

Needless to say, it didn't come as a shock that Haas was the only player in the red for most of the morning at the 69th Senior PGA Championship.

"(He's a) great player and knows the golf course very well and anything Jay Haas, whatever he does, it doesn't surprise me, about playing great golf," friend and fellow contender Jeff Sluman said.

But the 10-time Champions Tour winner didn't finish in typical Haas fashion. He was 2-under par at the turn and dropped as low as 3-under after holing a fast-moving 15-foot putt on No. 13.

Then his first round in chilly conditions up north in Western New York went a little south. It started with a bogey on No. 16, where Haas drove it in the thick rough, landed short-right with his approach, chipped to 15 feet and missed the putt for par.

On No. 18, he plugged his drive into the lip of a bunker, hacked that out with a 7-iron and wound up two-putting from 15 feet for a bogey.

Despite finishing on a sour note, the always affable Haas was pleased with his opening-round score of 1-under-par 69. He held the clubhouse lead when he finished and shot the lowest score from the morning wave.

"I was glad to be 3-under par, glad to be 1-under par," Haas said. "I was disappointed that I bogeyed those two holes coming in. But I will make some bogeys this week for sure. You have to be can expect (bogeys) here."

He hit nine of 14 fairways and made his only three bogeys when he missed the fairway.

"(The rough) is standing up pretty good. Standing straight up. Not many of us are strong enough to power it out of there. At least I am not," he admitted. "You see some of the areas where guys walked in there and hit some shots and maybe walked it down a little bit.

"But what you can maybe hope for is (that) when you hit way off line (it is) where people walk (so) that you get some kind of break."

Haas found the green in regulation 78 percent of the time in the first round but stressed that it's especially difficult to knock the ball out of the rough onto the green.

"(The course) is set up like a major. What we would consider a major tournament," Haas said. "I think this might be the hardest set up for a major tournament on the Champions Tour that I've played."

Haas won the 2006 Senior PGA Championship -- the first major of his career -- at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., but said Oak Hill is even tougher. "The wind really blew hard at Oak Tree," he explained, "and that made that very difficult. But I don't think the rought was quite as thick as it is here."

Simply put, he says, keeping the ball in the fairway is the key to beating Oak Hill Country Club.

He should know, having played there in the 1980 PGA Championship, the 1989 U.S. Open, the 1995 Ryder Cup and the 2005 PGA Championship.

"I feel comfortable here. I know I've played well here before. I know kind of what you have to do to play well. You just can't really attack this place. You kind of have to play position golf," Haas said. "The ball tends to run out of the fairway here and there. A lot of little slopes and in the landing areas."

"But I think, too, if you play well, if you hit good shots, you're very much rewarded here. It's not impossible," he added. "So I think the lure of possible birdies and a good round, a good score is out there. So it's not like you're climbing Mount Everest."

Then again, none of the previous tournaments he played at Oak Hill saw the same conditions that the 50-and-over players faced on Thursday at the 69th Senior PGA Championship.

As the morning dawned with temperatures in the low 40s and heavy clouds, Haas dressed to stay warm in silk long underwear and a rain suit. At one point he removed his rain jacket but quickly pulled it back over his shoulders when the sun peeked through the clouds but the wind immediately picked up.

"It's not that great, especially at (age) 54, when the temperature is that cool," Haas said. "Basically you hit a poor shot here, you'll make bogey. So when it's cold, you're still, it's pretty difficult."

Though the conditions improved for the golfers who teed off in the afternoon, Haas is still thankful to have completed the first day.

"I'm disappointed a little bit with my finish but, all in all, when I'm back in the room resting and watching the guys out here on TV this afternoon, they're freezing and windy and everything," Haas, a resident of Greenville, S.C., said, "(I'll be) under the covers and happy about that."

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