AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Matt Kuchar last competed in the Masters in 2002, and it's been more than a decade since he made a splash at Augusta National GC as an amateur, finishing T-21 in his first appearance as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.
On Tuesday morning, just prior to joining Steve Marino, British Open champion Stewart Cink and U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, Kuchar talked about the thrill of being back in the Masters. Of course, he hadn't yet learned that he was going to be paired with Tiger Woods for the opening two rounds of this 74th Masters.
"It's just a thrill to be back," Kuchar said before grabbing a quick lunch and then hooking up with his fellow Americans on the first tee at 12:15 p.m. EDT, about 15 minutes before the pairings were released showing Kuchar and K.J. Choi joining Woods in the second-last group at 1:42 p.m. Thursday. "I know my game has been pretty good this year [a T-2 and two third-place finishes in nine events], but golf is a funny game. You never know what you're going to have. It could be a great week, it could be a not so great week. But I feel my preparation has been good."
It had better be. The scrutiny on Woods -- and his partners -- will be intense, like nothing we've likely seen before given that Thursday's round will be Woods' first of the year since the controversy over his personal life erupted last November.
Kuchar, whose '97 Amateur win followed Woods' unprecedented three straight Am titles from 1994-96, was paired with Woods for the first round in '98 in the traditional matching of the Amateur champion with the defending Masters champion. Kuchar opened with 72, just one behind Woods, and the Florida native added 76 to make the cut. He was just one behind Woods after the first round. His 68 on Saturday put him 14th going into the final round, and he closed with a 72 to finish T-21.
On Tuesday, he fondly recalled that week, particularly the early round. "Yeah, well, playing with Tiger the first day, which was an experience. He had just crushed the field last year, so there was all that went with that," Kuchar said. "But I was playing really well, and, frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know you weren't supposed to play well. I didn't know where the trouble was. I just went out and played. It was a memorable week."
Now he'll have another.