April 5, 2000

By Mike Prusinski

AUGUSTA, Ga. - For the past eight months Hunter Haas has spent almost every day at the Charlie Coe Golf Learning Center preparing for his opportunity to play golf against the best in the world. His opportunity begins Thursday morning (8:21 a.m. Oklahoma time) when he plays the first round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Course. His playing partners for the first and second rounds will be 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize and Fred Funk.

"I can't believe that the moment is finally here," said Haas after his final practice round on Wednesday morning. "Since I qualified for this event last summer, I've been doing everything I can around Norman to make time go by as fast as possible. It's definitely been hectic with class, my job and practicing, but time never moved fast enough."

Since arriving in Augusta on Sunday night, time has raced by for the OU senior. He has played practice rounds with PGA Tour stars Jim Lehman, Mize, Sergio Garcia and Arnold Palmer. While time moved slowly in Norman, he has had little time to soak up the famed Masters atmosphere while shuffling between the course and driving range. There's also the issue of the fans.

"I've never seen so many people in one place, especially on a golf course," added Haas. "While the tournament staff does an excellent job of making sure that (the players) can get from one place to another, it's another story for my family. It's tough for them to keep up with all the people outside the ropes."

Haas, who enters this event as the top-ranked amateur in the U.S., earned his spot in the 2000 Masters by winning the Pubic Links Championship last summer. He also would have qualified after finishing as a semi-finalist at the U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach right before school started in August. Haas is one of five first-time amateurs and one of 14 players making their first appearance in this event.

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Haas was one of the last players to tee off in the annual Par 3 Tournament on Wednesday afternoon, and thanks to a 35-foot putt on his final hole, advanced to a four-person playoff to determine the champion. Chris Perry beat Haas, Jay Haas and Steve Pate on the first playoff hole.

One of the more famous records from this event is that no player who has won the Par 3 Tournament has ever won the weekend event.

"After I got into the playoff, I really wanted to win," said Haas, who used his girl friend Laurie as his caddie. "I know the history of the par-3 winner never winning the weekend tournament, but something just kicked on inside of me and I wanted to win."

Referring to his 35-footer on the ninth hole, Haas said, "That was an unbelievable putt. If it's not the longest I've ever made, it's close. Considering how fast these greens are, I was surprised it didn't roll into the lake."

The Haas family rented a house here in Augusta for the week, but Hunter will be keeping with tradition the night before the first round. It is tradition that the amateur stays in the famed "Crows Nest" a few yards from the 18th green. "At first I wasn't going to stay there, but I want to experience everything," stated Haas. "I can't pass it up, especially since I'll never come back here as an amateur again."

A total of 95 players comprise the field this year, including 57 American professionals and three amateurs. The International section of the field consists of 32 professionals and three amateurs, representing 19 countries.

Big crowds are expected to follow the threesome of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player which tee off at 12:23 (Central Time) Thursday. Pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods will be playing with Australian amateur Aaron Baddeley and Stewart Cink beginning at 9:38 Oklahoma time.

Ex-Sooner Glen Day is making his second straight appearance at The Masters. Day missed the cut last year after posting rounds of 79 and 84.