The 50-year-old is not only playing in his first event as a senior, he's also been labeled the man to beat - even though he hasn't won a tournament since 1993.
'Somebody asked me when was the last time I was a pre-tourney favorite and I said, 'Maybe, never.' When I was 12 in a junior event,' said Haas, who has four top 10 finishes on the regular PGA Tour this year.
Haas earned more than $2.5 million on tour last year and has already topped $1 million in earnings in 2004.
'Well, now he's probably the youngest in the field, so he's got to be the favorite, right?' quipped Fuzzy Zoeller, the 2002 Senior PGA champion.
Haas is 12th in the Ryder Cup points standings and is trying to become the oldest player to qualify for the prestigious international event.
He won't earn any points even if he wins at Valhalla this week and considered playing instead at this week's regular tour stop, in Memphis, Tenn.
'I guess I feel like if I am going to put the time in, I ought to try to play in tournaments that I can get points for the Ryder Cup,' Haas said. 'But I don't want to second-guess myself and say, 'Gosh, I should have gone to Memphis.' I feel like I'm going to play enough events on the regular tour that if I play well enough, I'll get the points.'
Haas and 2001 Senior PGA champion Tom Watson are two of seven players who competed in the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships at Valhalla. Watson said that tournament experience will be a significant advantage this week.
During a practice round on Tuesday, Watson remembered that winds tend to gust on the tee at No. 12, a demanding par-4.
'If you wait a second, you can hit the ball with no wind there, even though the wind is in your face,' said Watson, who tied for ninth in 2000. 'People who haven't played it before just go ahead and hit it.'
The Jack Nicklaus-designed course has been slightly adjusted for the seniors.
Nine fairway bunkers have been added and the course will play 177 yards shorter than it did in 2000, when Tiger Woods defeated Bob May in a riveting playoff.
The second hole, a 535-yard par-5 four years ago, will play as a 455-yard par-4 this week and drop the course's par to 71. The hole was the easiest in 2000, yielding 180 birdies, and the players seeing it again don't like the new look.
'I think it makes a better par-5 than a par-4. The green sets up better for it,' Watson said.
'It was a better hole as a par-5,' Craig Stadler said. 'But so be it. It's a good, hard par-4.'
Nicklaus, who approved the PGA-recommended alterations, had not seen them until he played a practice round on Wednesday. He only got in nine holes before a thunderstorm washed out afternoon play.
Nicklaus defended the changes he saw.
'Every golf course evolves,' Nicklaus said. 'The PGA has made a lot of changes. They're basically changes they wanted to make, not what I think should be here. But they're fine.'
If one senior knows the course better than its designer, it's Zoeller, who lives about 40 miles away in Floyds Knobs, Ind., and plays Valhalla three or four times a year.
'I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a couple of friends who are members here,' he said. 'But is that an advantage? No, because we're playing different tees.'
Hundreds of fans followed Zoeller during a practice round on Wednesday, but Zoeller doesn't see much of an edge playing so close to home.
'The one positive is sleeping in your own bed, that's kind of nice,' he said. 'Now, if I play poorly, you can blame it on my wife, Diane, and the kids, you know?'
The National Weather Service in Louisville forecast a 30-50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms between Thursday and Sunday.
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