Masters blog: Amateurs shine in Round 1

Peter Uihlein hits his second shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters.

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8:45 p.m.: Amateurs shine in Round 1

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The amateurs in the Masters field may be unaccustomed to handling all that comes with a major championship – the patrons, the media, the course conditions – but they have one distinct advantage over their professional counterparts.

Ricky Barnes only had to point at the roof of the Augusta National clubhouse to reveal the reason for the amateurs’ upper hand: the Crow’s Nest, the amateur-only lodging.

“Everyone says ‘What are you going to do after the round?’ In the amateur years, I could walk right up there, eat a meal and lay in my bed in about 15 minutes,” Barnes said. “Now I have to drive home.”

Washington Road traffic may be the only downside of Masters week, but competing in the Masters as an amateur is about more than convenient housing. The amateurs are an integral part of Bobby Jones’ invitational.

There’s an Amateur Dinner on the Monday of tournament week, and amateurs are paired with past Masters champions. The U.S. Amateur champion is always paired with the defending champion.

“They treat us first-class,” said U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, who’s competing in his third Masters as an amateur. “In some ways it might be better than the pros.”

Several professionals who competed at Augusta National prior to their professional days made appearances on Thursday’s leaderboard.

Matt Kuchar won the PGA Tour money list last year, but he’s still remembered best as the grinning schoolboy amateur that held his own against Tiger Woods at the Masters more than a dozen years ago.

Kuchar still hasn’t bested his 21st-place finish here in 1998, when he was a student at Jones’ alma mater, Georgia Tech. Kuchar, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, played the first two rounds with Woods, the defending champion, then shot a Saturday 68. Kuchar shot 68 Thursday, the first time he’s broken 70 at Augusta National since his Masters debut.

Kuchar finished 24th last year, his best Masters finish as a pro. He wasn’t the only former Augusta National amateur star to play well as a pro Thursday:

• Matt Kuchar, 1997 U.S. Amateur champ

Score: 68, T-5

Masters finish as amateur: T-21 (1998); T-50 (1999)

• Ricky Barnes, 2002 U.S. Amateur champ

Score: 68, T-5

Masters finish as amateur: 21st (2003)

• Brandt Snedeker, 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links champ

Score: 69, T-7

Masters finish as amateur: T-41 (2004)

• Ryan Moore, 2004 U.S. Amateur champ; two-time U.S. Publinks champ

Score: 70, T-14

Masters finish as amateur: T-45 (2003); T-13 (2005)

Moore is the last amateur to finish in the top 25 at Augusta National.

Snedeker tied for 41st here as an amateur in 2004, but his most famous Masters moment occurred as a pro. He finished third in 2008 after a final-round 77 that resulted in a tearful post-tournament press conference.

Barnes was grouped with Tiger Woods for the first round of the 2003 Masters. The muscular Barnes, wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt, beat Woods, 69-76, in the first round.

That shirt may no longer be in style – it’s questionable if it was in 2003 – but Barnes’ experience here as an amateur is worth remembering.

– Sean Martin

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3:40 p.m.: Notable scores from the top of the tee sheet

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Players are taking advantage of perfect weather at Augusta National. Rory McIlroy has the clubhouse lead after shooting 65. Here’s a quick look at other notable results during the first day at Augusta National:

• Camilo Villegas’ 69 matched his career best in 12 rounds at Augusta National. He’s broken 70 just twice here, and never finished better than 13th. Villegas’ season has been a struggle, starting with that DQ at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Villegas attributed his earlier struggles here to deference to the historic layout. “It’s just a golf course, that you got to respect it, but you can’t fear it,” he said.

• New father Brandt Snedeker shot 69 and is once again challenging for a green jacket. His wife gave birth to the couple’s first child during the week of the Honda Classic. “I feel this is the best I’ve played in my career,” he said. “I feel really comfortable with where I am in my life.” Snedeker contended for the 2008 Masters, but finished third after a final-round 77. He broke down during his post-tournament press conference, revealing the emotional strain that comes with competing for a green jacket. Snedeker also made the cut in the 2004 Masters as an amateur.

• The threesome of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney and Adam Scott couldn’t take advantage of ideal scoring conditions Thursday, combining to shoot 2 over. Johnson shot 74, while Watney and Scott both shot 72. “It doesn’t get any easier than this,” Johnson said. “It played pretty easy today. ... It was frustrating. I just really couldn’t get anything going with the putter.”

• Sergio Garcia’s short eagle putt at the par-5 13th got the Spaniard to 3 under par. He followed with a birdie at the next hole to get into second place. Garcia has only broken 70 four times in 40 rounds at Augusta National.

–Sean Martin

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3 p.m.: Chung overcomes nerves

AUGUSTA, Ga. – David Chung took one deep breath before addressing his ball on Augusta National’s first tee. The relaxation technique is usually effective, but Augusta National is no ordinary setting.

“It seemed like there was no oxygen coming into my lungs,” Chung, a Stanford junior, said. “Not only are there people all around you, but there are people lining the fairways. It's very different."

Chung, the U.S. Amateur runner-up, sent his first tee shot into those patrons left of the first fairway. With 180 yards remaining, he had to hit his second shot over a tree, short and right of the green. A chip and a 5-foot putt later, and his first Masters round was underway with a par.

Chung was 2 under par after 15 holes, but bogeyed the final two holes for 72.

“He enjoyed the day,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “He’s been working really hard on his short game and it showed today.”

Chung’s short game was key on a day when he hit just nine fairways of 14 fairways and 10 greens. The highlight of his day may have been a 240-yard hybrid shot on the 450-yard, par-4 seventh after his tee shot struck a tree. The ball bounced into the fairway, barely past the crosswalk. He hit hybrid 15 feet from the hole on the narrow, elevated green.

Chung's intstructor, Adam Schriber, caddied for Chung on Thursday. Schriber also instructs Anthony Kim, who finished third in last year’s Masters. Chung and Kim are good friends and played practice rounds together earlier in the week. That relationship paid dividends on Thursday.

“(Anthony) was very helpful in telling me where the pins are and where the good misses are,” Chung said. “They’re very intimidating pins, but if you miss them in the right places you can have a good shot at getting up-and-down.”

Chung has another helpful connection at Augusta National: he was on the United States team at the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship. The squad was captained by Fred Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion and Augusta National member. Chung used Ridley’s caddie, Rowdy Dunn, to gain local knowledge during practice rounds the week prior to the tournament.

Chung’s form had been off the standard he set this summer, when he won the Porter Cup and Western Amateur and was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur. He finished 58th in his last college event preceding the Masters, the Linger Longer Invitational March 27-29 in Greensboro, Ga., which was held one week after Stanford's final exams. After the tournament, Chung, of Fayetteville, N.C., spent a few days with his family in Atlanta before coming to Augusta. He didn’t practice, using the time to relax before what was guaranteed to be a hectic week. He came to Augusta National this past Friday.

- Sean Martin

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2:20 p.m.: Solheim's son and family in Tokyo during today's earthquake

AUGUSTA, Ga. - John Solheim, chairman and CEO of Ping, reported that his son and heir apparent, John K. Solheim, was at Tokyo DisneySea amusement park with his family when a gigantic earthquake struck Japan.

“There were cracks in the pavement,” the elder Solheim said. “They felt very lucky to get out of there unharmed.”

In November, 2010, the younger Solheim was appointed president and representative director of Ping Golf Japan. He and his wife, Brooke, have four children. The entire family was at DisneySea.

“It took them 11 hours to drive home,” Solheim added. “Normally it’s a 45-minute drive.”

The golf club business has been affected to such an extent, Solheim said, that one of Ping’s biggest customers placed an order that was one-fifth the size of its normal order.

- Jim Achenbach

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12:50 p.m.: McIlroy out to hot start

Rory McIlroy, paired with fellow young hotshot Rickie Fowler, has tied Retief Goosen atop the leaderboard at 5 under, with both on the back nine at this point.

Ross Fisher, Brandt Snedeker, Hiroyuki Fujita and Matt Kuchar are all two shots back, with Fisher having finished his round with a 3-under 69.

World No. 1 Martin Kaymer had a rough front nine, making the turn at 2 over.

- Nick Masuda

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12:30 p.m.: International flavor atop the leaderboard

Retief Goosen is making the turn at 5-under 31 to hold a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy. Ross Fisher, Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar and Hiroyuki Fujita are all two shots back.

Goosen started the day with an eagle.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods picked up his first birdie (No. 6) to sit at 1 under.

- Nick Masuda

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10:55 a.m.: Fisher takes early command

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ross Fisher, the second player to tee off in this year’s Masters is now first on the leaderboard. Fisher made the turn in 3-under 33, and is one shot ahead of Rory McIlroy and Retief Goosen, both of whom are early in their first rounds.

Fisher has played in two previous Masters. He finished 30th in 2009 and missed the cut last year. He opened the 2009 Masters with a 69. He’s shot over par in four of six rounds at Augusta National, and shot 76 or higher three times.

Other highlights early in the first round:

• Aaron Baddeley hit his opening tee shot into the lap of a woman seated left of the first fairway. He made par from the trees and is 1 under par through 5 holes.

• David Chung, the U.S. Amateur runner-up, shot 36 on his first nine. Chung has swing coach Adam Schriber on the bag. Schriber also works with Anthony Kim. Chung and Kim played practice rounds together this week.

-Sean Martin

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9:55 a.m.: No. 1 can lead to deadly start

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Welcome to the 2011 Masters.

Welcome to Bogeyville.

Three of the first six players (Ross Fisher, Alex Cejka and Sandy Lyle) made bogey on the opening hole.

The first hole used to be easy. Driver, wedge, birdie putt.

Now it can be a scary hole. Fisher and Lyle hit their drives into the second bunker on the right side of the fairway. This bunker is very deep, very threatening. Neither player came close to making par.

Over the years, each hole at Augusta National Golf Club has assumed a distinct personality. The first hole was one of the last to do so.

The first tee has been moved a number of times. The hole now plays 445 yards. It has a steep hill that must be carried with the tee shot. It has trees on both the right and left. It has those two diabolical fairway bunkers.

Two of the first six players (Jonathan Byrd and David Chung) hit their drives into the left-hand trees. Only two of the six (Cejka and Sean O’Hair) found the fairway.

Whatever happened to that kind and gentle opening hole? It disappeared with one course revision after another.

Add cold temperatures - definitely a factor for early groups here - and the first can be a killer hole. It can set the tone for the day, so nobody wants to start with bogey.

Yet half the players in the first two threesomes did exactly that.

I have long thought that pairings and starting times for professional golf tournaments should be drawn from a hat. Defending champion Phil Mickelson will be in short sleeves when he begins play at 1:58 p.m., but all the early players were wearing sweaters.

Sure, a strong argument can be made that professional golfers must be prepared to contend with all types of conditions. But it could be endlessly fascinating to throw all the names into a hat and allow the starting times to fall where they may.

On the tee ... brrr ... Phil ... brrr ... Mickelson.

- Jim Achenbach

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8:30 a.m.: Pairings reminder

A reminder on some of the more interesting pairings Thursday:

• 8:40 a.m.: Butch Harmon disciples Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, who dueled at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, are paired with former Harmon student Adam Scott.

• 8:51 a.m.: It's an all-international pairing of the resurgent Vijay Singh (the 2000 Masters winner), Northern Trust Open champion Aaron Baddeley and 2010 Players champion Tim Clark.

• 9:24 a.m.: This is your "young guns" pairing: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.

• 10:19 a.m.: The top two players in the world – Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood – are paired with Matt Kuchar, who has six top-10s in eight starts this year.

• 10:30 a.m.: Hunter Mahan, who's finished in the top-10 in the past two Masters, is paired with two-time Masters runner-up Ernie Els and Francesco Molinari.

• 10:41 a.m.: Tiger Woods plays with Graeme McDowell, a rematch of last December’s Chevron World Challenge, where McDowell beat Woods with birdies on the 72nd hole and first hole of a playoff. Robert Allenby rounds out the threesome.

• 12:31 p.m.: 2012 Ryder Cup captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Love III are paired with U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Lion Kim. Both Love and Olazabal missed the cut last week at Houston. Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, shot 77-83.

• 12:53 p.m.: Luke Donald, who World No. 1 Martin Kaymer declared as his favorite this week, plays with Steve Stricker and 1992 Masters champ Fred Couples. Stricker is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Houston Open. Couples, who made the cut at Houston, said after the tournament that his back is “shot.”

• 1:48 p.m.: Defending champion Phil Mickelson and U.S. Amateur winner Peter Uihlein tee with former U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy.

• 1:59 p.m.: Long hitters Jhonattan Vegas, Gary Woodland and Alvaro Quiros are the field’s caboose, teeing off in the day’s final threesome. Vegas and Woodland, who've both won on the PGA Tour this year, are making their first Masters appearances.

- Sean Martin

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8:05 a.m.: Did you know?

In Thursday's edition of "Did you know?" ... we break down some first-round records, as well as more nuggets about scoring and money at the Masters.

• The lowest front nine score at Augusta is a 30, and has been done four times (Johnny Miller in 1975; Greg Norman in 1988; KJ Choi in 2004; Phil Mickelson in 2009).

• The lowest back nine score is 29, accomplished by Mark Calcavecchia in 1992 and David Toms in 1998.

• The lowest first-round score in Masters history is a 63 by Greg Norman in 1996. It also tied a tournament record (Nick Price did it in the 1986 third round).

• The most players to shoot par or better in the first round of the Masters is 53, coming in 1991.

• The most first rounds in the 60s at the Masters is 19 (of 96) at the 2009 tournament.

• The most consecutive holes of par or better is 50, held by Stuart Appleby in 2001.

• Of those that have carded more than 100 rounds at the Masters, Fred Couples has the lowest scoring average at 71.94, with his best round being a 66.

• Jack Nicklaus is the only player to have two eagles on the same par 4 hole in the same tournament, coming in 1995 on No. 5 in the first and third rounds.

• Tiger Woods (2005; third round) and Steve Pate (1999; third round) hold the record for consecutive birdies in a round with seven.

• Anthony Kim holds the Masters record for single-round birdies, with 11 in 2009. He shot a 65.

• Arnold Palmer holds the record for consecutive Masters starts with 50 (1955-2004).

• The record for most finishes by a player 50 or older is held by Jack Nicklaus with nine.

• Tiger Woods holds the all-time money lead at the Masters, picking up $6,472,139 over 16 appearances.

- Nick Masuda

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8 a.m.: R&A/USGA make new interpretation of rules

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In a change directed at scorecards and television viewers, golf revised one of its rules Thursday so that players who learn of a violation after they sign their cards can be penalized without being disqualified.

The Royal & Ancient and USGA announced the new interpretation an hour before the Masters. It is effective immediately.

The change stems from two incidents earlier this year on separate tours.

Padraig Harrington was disqualified after opening with a 65 in the Abu Dhabi Championship when a slow-motion replay on high-definition television revealed that his ball moved ever so slightly after he replaced his marker.

Harrington knew the rule, but did not realize it had moved. It should have been a two-shot penalty, but because it was discovered after the round, he was disqualified for signing an incorrect card.

Under the change, Harrington would have had two shots added to his score and could resume playing the tournament.

In the first PGA Tour event of the year in Hawaii, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for signing an incorrect card after a television viewer noticed he had tamped down a divot in an area where his chip was rolling back down a slope. In that case, Villegas still would be disqualified for not knowing the rule.

It is not a change in the actual Rules of Golf, rather a book of Decisions that allows officials various case studies. The new interpretation is of Decision 33-7/4.5, that essentially gives officials more latitude to determine if a player should be disqualified.

Even with the new interpretation, it makes clear that knowing the rules is up to the player.

“For some time, we have been concerned that, in certain limited circumstances, disproportionate disqualification penalties have been required by the rules,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “This carefully considered decision reflects our desire to ensure that the Rules of Golf remain fair and relevant in the changing environment in which the game is played today.”

That changing environment mostly relates to television.

For the last three decades, there have been a few incidents in which TV viewers will see what they believe is an infraction. It can lead to penalties, but often the reporting of the violation comes after the player has signed his card.

“This is a logical and important step in our re-evaluation of the impact of high-definition video on the game,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We collectively believe that this revised decision addresses many video-related issues never contemplated by the Rules of Golf.”

- The Associated Press

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• Tuesday's blog, click here.

• Wednesday's blog, click here.

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