ST. LOUIS — Belleville native Jay Haas hasn't played a lot of golf at Bellerive Country Club in recent years. But he has played it more often than most of the field at the 74th Senior PGA Championship.
And Thursday, Haas put that knowledge to good work.
Playing bogey-free golf, Haas fired a 5-under-par 66 and is tied with Duffy Waldorf after the opening round of the Champions Tour major event.
Haas, whose first taste of Bellerive came at a summer sectional qualifier when he was a teenager, made five birdies in a 10-hole stretch then finished with four straight pars as he recorded what he believed is his best-round ever on the par-71 course.
"It's probably the lowest round I've ever shot here no what age I was,'' Haas said. "I didn't expect it going out. I wasn't very sharp today. But my misses were in the correct spots and I took advantage of a few good iron shots and just kept it out of the ditches, I guess you would say.
"But I'm very, very pleased.''
The 2006 and 2008 Senior PGA champion, the 59-year-old Haas finds himself tied with the 50-year-old Waldorf, who birdied two of his final four holes to forge a tie for the lead in his first Senior PGA Championship.
The duo holds a one-stroke lead over Kiyoshi Murota and Sonny Skinner, who both are at 4-under 67. Peter Senior and Chien-Soon Lu sit at 3-under 68.
Several players including left-hander Russ Cochran, Kenny Perry and Dan Forsman and Tom Watson shot 2-under-par rounds of 69.
Haas, who last played Bellerive in 2004 when he tied for third at the U.S. Senior Open, made birdies on the par-3 sixth hole and par-5 eighth to make the turn at 2-under 34.
He then made a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 11 to get to 3 under and followed with 10-foot birdie putts on holes 12 and 15, before capping his round with three straight pars.
"I think there is a certain level of comfort out here for me. Just knowing the holes and I've played here, I would have to say, more than anybody in the field," Haas said. "It's not a lot, but probably 20-25 more rounds than anybody else.
"I don't know if it gives me an advantage. Maybe it lets me know where to miss it.''
Waldorf, in his first full season on the Champions Tour, started on the back nine, where he shot a 33.
Four under after a birdie on the par-5 fourth hole, the Northridge, Calif. resident gave a shot back with a bogey on No. 5, but he birdied holes 7 and 8 to finish with his 66.
"It was a good round. Tee to green it was a very good day,'' Waldorf said. "I had some putts which were key to the round and I had some really nice up-and-downs, which helped a great deal."
While Haas was the day's top story, the most unexpected story had to be that of Sonny Skinner.
A club professional at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga., whose biggest claim to fame are Nationwide Tour wins at the 1993 Shreveport Open and the 1994 Henrico Open, played his final 11 holes Thursday 5-under-par to finish with a 67 and put himself in a tie with Murota for second.
"It was special. Just to be here is very special,'' Skinner said. "I'm very thankful to the PGA of America that has the eligibility requirement that they do which allows as many clubs (professionals) to get into our tournament as they do.''
Starting on the back 9, Skinner was 1-over-par through his first seven holes, but finished his front nine with consecutive birdies to make the turn in 34.
Birdies on holes 1, 3 and 4 followed and the 53-year-old Skinner finished his round five straight pars to shoot 67.
"I just kept trying to hit good shots and I made some good pars where I hit the fairways,'' Skinner said. "I got off to a rough start, but I was able to stay in it until I played better.
"To be 4-under par, one shot off the lead in a major, you bet I'm pleased."
Among the other players of interest, four-time champion and Missouri native Hale Irwin shot a 70 and Centralia native Tom Wargo had a 77.