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Published: Friday, 4/9/2004

Haas hopes to prove 50-year-old can win


AUGUSTA, Ga. - It s not as if Jay Haas is any stranger to success. He has nine PGA Tour victories and, just last year, finished second in the Players Championship and fifth in the PGA Championship.

So an opening-round 69 in the Masters at Augusta National is no big shock, until you factor in Haas being 50 years old.

“Yeah, I get letters from AARP, but so far they ve gone into the circular file,” Haas said yesterday. “I think a 50-year-old can win this tournament. I d love to prove it.”

Haas trails leader Justin Rose, less than half Haas age at 23, by two shots.

Does experience give him an advantage?

“Who knows?” replied Haas, who is playing in his 21st Masters. “I think I ve made all the mistakes there are to make here. I ve hit it in all the wrong places, so I know where not to go. But that doesn t mean I m always hitting it where I m looking.

“The bigger issue is whether I can keep my emotions in check. I d love to try. I d love to get into the hunt for the weekend and for the last nine holes.”

Haas is a nephew of Bob Goalby, the Masters champion in 1968.

“He has been my guiding light, I guess you could say, throughout my golfing career,” Haas said. “It has always been a dream of mine to have a locker next to his up in the champions locker room.”

PLAYING WITH THE KING: Imagine being an amateur playing in your first Masters and being paired during the first two rounds with Arnold Palmer, appearing in his 50th and final Masters.

It happened to Nathan Smith, the 25-year-old U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. He shot a 78 in yesterday s first round at Augusta National while paired with Palmer and Bob Estes.

“It was unbelievable,” Smith said. “He got ovations on every shot. It s a day I ll always remember.

“I was very comfortable playing with him because we played together in the practice round on Tuesday. He s the greatest. I m from western Pennsylvania (Brookville) and I love him like everybody else does. Everywhere he goes people love him.”

The 74-year-old Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, parred the first three holes but couldn t keep it going and faded to an 84.

“It was tough,” Palmer said. “I m trying to hit it too far.

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