Kuchar, Barnes put on a show of their own

Matt Kuchar is tied for 17th after a first-round 2-under 70.
Matt Kuchar is tied for 17th after a first-round 2-under 70. ( Associated Press )

Monday, January 31, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes both authored memorable performances as amateurs here at the Masters. They returned to Augusta National this year after long absences, and played well Thursday in the shadow of Tiger Woods.

Kuchar, who was paired with Woods and K.J. Choi, shot 70 and is tied for 17th. Barnes, who played in the group behind Woods, is in a tie for seventh after shooting 68.

Kuchar’s last Masters round with Woods came in 1998. Kuchar was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, while Woods had won the previous year’s Masters by 12 shots. Kuchar finished one shot behind Woods in the first round (71 to 72), and went on to finish 21st and earn low amateur honors.

Kuchar said there were some similarities between Thursday’s round and that round 12 years prior. He said his interaction with Woods was “normal.”

“It was a little different energy and atmosphere, but still (a lot of) well-wishing going on,” Kuchar said. “It was cool. It was an up-front seat for Tiger’s welcome back. And it was exactly that. He had everybody just wishing him well. It was fun to be a part of and some darn good golf.”

Kuchar said the atmosphere may have helped him and Choi, who shot 67, play well.

“Everybody was excited to see Tiger and whoever he was playing with,” Kuchar said. “It was kind of great that they were excited to see whoever he was playing with as well.”

Kuchar is playing his first Masters since ’02. He said he still gets recognized for his performance in the ’98 Masters.

While Kuchar got a front-row seat for Woods’ return, Barnes was in Woods’ wake. Thousands of people followed Woods all day, but the area around the 18th green was nearly empty when Barnes finished his round at dusk.

Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion, is making his first Masters appearance as a professional. He finished 21st at the ’03 Masters to earn low amateur honors. He shot 69 in the first round that year to beat Woods, his playing partner, by seven shots.

Barnes got into this year’s Masters by virtue of his runner-up finish at last year’s U.S. Open. His brother, Andy, is on his bag this week. Andy, the assistant men’s golf coach at Arizona, was on the bag for the ’03 Masters and ’09 U.S. Open.

“We were in our game,” Barnes replied, when asked if Woods was a distraction. “Fortunately, Adam (Scott) and I played pretty good off the bat, so we were kind of feeding off each other there, as opposed to seeing what was going on ahead of us.”