AUGUSTA, Ga.--They each have pleasant memories of Augusta National GC, a place that treated them kindly when they first set foot on the grounds as U.S. Amateur champions. Perhaps then it's not surprising Matt Kuchar, Ricky Barnes and Ryan Moore all walked off the course Thursday afternoon at the 75th Masters with red numbers beside their name on the leader board and confidence about what that might lie ahead this week.
Kuchar and Barnes shot four-under 68s to close the first round tied for fifth place, three shots back of leaders Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros. Moore shot a 70, despite actually topping two shots out of pine straw during his entertaining round.
Maybe it's just coincidence that the trio had success, even though each had top-25 finishes at the tournament when playing for pride rather than pay. Or maybe it's good karma.
"The atmosphere is a little different," Moore said of playing Augusta National as an amateur compared to a pro. "The way you're treated [as an amateur] is almost better."
Moore, who finished T-13 as an amateur in 2005, after also making the cut in 2003, made six birdies on the day to help offset four bogeys, including one on the 18th hole. Still, he walked away satisfied with his play.
"I'm happy with it," Moore said. "It was one of those days, definitely some birdies out there, but that wind was up and down. ... I just played a good, solid round."
Kuchar had similar highs and lows during his play, as he made four birdies in his first eight holes and had it to five under after 15.
"I felt solid out there," said Kuchar, who was T-21 at the Masters in 1999. "I didn't feel like I was doing a whole lot of grinding. It felt like a lot of good opportunities.
Barnes, meanwhile, had the steadiest round of the three, overcoming a first-hole bogey and rallying with birdies on the eighth, ninth, 13th and 15th holes. His play may also have been the biggest surprise considering the limited schedule he has played in 2011 while nursing bulging disks in his back, an injury that required he get a cortisone shot to ease the pain in February.
"Years past, after this round, I would go straight to the trailer, get a workout in, maybe hit a few balls," Barnes said. "Now, I have no other option but to go ice, relax and watch a little TV."
Barnes has good vibes from his run in 2004, where he was in third place after 36 holes and finished 21st overall.
"I just like the way the course sets up with my eye," Barnes said. "I have from the first time I stepped on the course."
*-- Ryan Herrington *
(Photo by Getty Images)