Jay Haas beats his age and shares lead at US Senior Open

BETHLEhem, PA (AP) — Jay Haas has been shooting his age or better for the past three years, never on stage at the US Senior Open like Thursday.

Haas stabilized himself from an up-and-down start in the Suzy Saucon Valley and played in his less than 68-year run, posting 4-under 67 to share the lead with Mark Hensby after the opening round.

Along with Tom Watson, Hal Irwin, Harold McSpadden and Jerry Barber, who did so nine times, Haas became the fifth player in US Senior Open history to shoot his age. Barber was the oldest first-time winner of a Major at the 1961 PGA Championship.

“That’s a pretty good score to break (your age) on a course like this,” said Haas, who shot six times his age in the PGA Tour Champions, but never in the Majors.

Haas and Heinsby were one shot ahead of Steve Stricker, Rocco Mediat, Paul Broadhurst and Tim Petrovic. Even with the rain, which rocked the Saucon Valley in the morning and left the green receptive, even as it softened, only 11 players managed to break the par.

The co-leaders benefited from a later start due to incessant rain throughout the morning which made it difficult to keep the clubs dry. Paul Guidos had a score lower than the morning wave at 69, prompting Californians to say, “This is more rain than it has rained in 10 years.”

“Wow, did we ever take a break today,” said the striker. “Morning wave, it seemed as if their whole wave played in the rain. …it played as long as it could today with softer conditions and not really rolling the beat. It was long, but a tough challenge.”

Defending champion Jim Furyk, who missed a shot at Brookline at last week’s US Open, opened with 71 runs. Steve Alker, the leading player of the PGA Tour Champions this year, scored a 72 in his US Senior Open debut.

Hensby and Haas have some recent PGA Tour experience.

Heinsby, whose only PGA Tour win was the 2004 John Deere Classic, finished seventh at the Puerto Rico Open. Haas played in the Zurich Classic team event with son Bill and made the cut.

Haas doesn’t see it as preparing for the toughest of events in senior events. He was just having fun with his son and he got a mental boost.

“Playing with Bill, it gave me some confidence, a little extra confidence,” Haas said. “But at the same time, I’m on the verge of saying that’s enough. And if I play too many bad rounds in a row, I’m done. Maybe that’s what drives me. I don’t want to be done. So I work on it.” I keep doing it and keep trying to make good scores.”

Haas was particularly satisfied with how well he struck his iron late in the round, especially in the final three holes, after dropping a couple of shots early off the rough.

One of his best was a 16th and a back right pin which Haas filled 4 feet to tie Heinsby for the lead. He came up with a ridge crunch on the 18th hole and left himself a hard put on the birdie and lead, though he had some complaints.

Even when he missed it, it still worked out for him. Haas was in deep, wet grass on the left side of the fairway on the par-5 12th, fearing he pulled it a bit and instead the shot grabbed the slope and funneled it down about 6 feet for the birdie.

Mediat played bogey-free, which he suspects is the first time he has done so.

Haas broke his age for the first time at 65 and scored 64 in the first round of the Chub Classic in 2019. The most recent occasion was posting 66 (age 68) three weeks ago at the Principal Charity Classic in Iowa.

“He is still very competitive,” said the striker. “He still plays a lot. He’s a direct driver of the ball, which you need to be here, and he grapples well. That’s what you need at the US Open, whether on the regular tour or the Senior Open.

There is still a long road to the finish line and a chance to break the record for the oldest US Senior Open champion. Alan Doyle won in 2006, two weeks before his 58th birthday.

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