Patric Schneider
Countdown to Augusta

Padraig Harrington leads the Irish challenge at Masters tune-up in Houston

Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman top the pile on day one in Houston.

BILL HAAS GRABBED a share of the first-round lead at the PGA Tour’s Houston Open, positioning himself for a run at the title his father Jay won in 1987.

Haas, whose highlight was an eagle at the par-five fourth hole, and Charley Hoffman topped a jam-packed leaderboard on seven-under par 65 at the Golf Club of Houston, just a week ahead of the Masters.

The two afternoon starters took a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley, J.B. Holmes, Erik Compton and Jim Renner.

Padraig Harrington is the best of the Irish despite a closing bogey which saw him drop back to three-under, one ahead of Rory McIlroy who is in a group of 17 players massed on two-under.

Haas, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, made a surge on his inward nine to grasp his share of the early lead.

“I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things,” Haas said.

I feel like I’m close. I think you just have to stay positive, and hopefully one week it all clicks and you find yourself in the mix on Sunday and then try to take advantage of that.

Haas is among the players using this week’s tournament to hone his game for next week’s Masters, the first major of the year, at Augusta National.

Hoffman is among the players who needs a win this week to earn a Masters invitation.

Kuchar hit all 18 greens in regulation on his way to a bogey-free six-under 66.

Bradley also played without a bogey — as did the other two players in his group, five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and former US Open champion Webb Simpson.

“It was the first time I remember that happening, certainly in my career,” Mickelson said. “Not to have any bogeys in the group is pretty special.”

The group teed off on 10, and Bradley, a former US PGA Championship winner who notched a runner-up finish at Bay Hill last month, nabbed his first birdie of the day at the 13th, then added three in a row from the 15th.

“I hadn’t been making any putts, and it seems like the putter just kind of woke up right about now, which is really a good time of year for it to do that,” Bradley said.

After the group of five players sharing third place on 66, another 10 players were tied on five-under 67, a group that included 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, 2009 British Open winner Stewart Cink and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.

Simpson and Mickelson were among a big group on 68. Mickelson, who will be seeking a fourth Masters green jacket next week, got his final tune-up off to a solid start.

He said the injury to his right oblique muscle, which had forced him to withdraw from the Texas Open last week, had responded well to treatment.

“I feel a lot better four or five days later,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t hurt anymore. It just feels sore as opposed to a kind of painful experience.”

- © AFP, 2014

5 reasons why you should be watching the League of Ireland this weekend

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.