What took you so long, Ricky?

Ricky Barnes

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The guy who finished atop the leaderboard at the last major – one Y.E. Yang – made the turn on Friday still on the board at the Masters as well, standing at 4 under par through 27 holes. However, before you annoint Yang as the hottest guy in back-to-back majors, consider this candidate: Ricky Barnes.

You see, Barnes hasn’t played a major since last summer’s U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and he was a runner-up there. That finish failed to get him into July’s Open Championship and August’s PGA Championship, but it did get him back to the Masters, a place he had not been since 2003. Through 36 holes, he stands at 6-under 138, right in the middle of things heading into the weekend.

Barnes’ lone previous Masters start came in April 2003 following his U.S. Amateur victory over Hunter Mahan at Oakland Hills the previous summer. He played well in his first appearance at Augusta, placing 21st. He played in the second-to-last group on Saturday, shot 291 and was low amateur. Had he taken one shot fewer he’d have finished in the top 16 and earned a return trip the following year.

Funny, but he hadn’t been back to Augusta until three weeks ago, when he visited to get refamiliarized with the golf course.

“I was telling someone last night that I never really wanted to come back here unless I was playing as a pro,” said Barnes, 29, who has one top 10 in nine PGA Tour starts this season. “It’s one thing to get invited by a member or something, and I would never turn it down, but I always wanted to come back here and play as a pro. And I’m here and I want to take it a step further and compete come Saturday and Sunday.”

One longtime teacher of a Tour player following Barnes the last couple of days marveled at how much better his swing looks now compared with his amateur days. At the risk of being blunt, a reporter asked Barnes, what took so long to get back to Augusta?

“I’m definitely more mature,” he said. “I know that I didn’t have to mash it all over the place. Back then I was definitely longer. And this is a fickle game. It’s a very humbling game as well. So why it has taken this long? Who knows. But you got to appreciate it when you’re here.”

Seems as if he’s got that covered.

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