AUGUSTA, Ga. – Three identical rounds to the one Stephen Ames played Thursday would probably be enough to win him a green jacket.
The Calgary golfer put himself in ideal position after the first round of the Masters with a bogey-free 70 that left him two shots behind leaders Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman. Ames would gladly take his chances with three more days like that because he thinks an 8-under total would be more than enough to win.
“Oh yeah, easily,” he said. “Compared to what last year’s score was, yeah, I think it would be.”
A lot of players, including Mike Weir, were feeling the same way.
The lefty from Bright’s Grove, Ont., shot a 73 and was smiling afterwards. That probably would have but him well behind in years past but it’s pretty clear that the Masters is becoming a different kind of tournament.
“The scores aren’t low and it’s early in the week,” said Weir. “I didn’t do anything to hurt my chances too much.”
There’s still a lot of holes to play before anyone can seriously think about putting on the green jacket but both Canadians find themselves in good shape so far.
The first round was played under brilliant sunshine and little wind but Augusta National was no pushover. Several flags were tucked away on shelves of the tough greens and the scoring reflected it.
“A lot of the holes, they were the No. 1 (toughest) pins,” said Ames. “Scoring itself, just to get ball close to the hole, was tough. You had to be hitting it very well and controlling your yardage.”
So far, so good.
The best shot of the day for Ames came at the tough par-4 seventh when he hit a cut six-iron from 165 yards into three feet. That led to just one of four birdies at the hole all day.
Earlier in the week, he had complained about how tough the hole was playing and was asked Thursday if the birdie had done anything to change his mind.
“No, not really,” said Ames.
He finished the round with 12 straight pars and wasn’t too concerned about a couple makeable birdie putts that he failed to convert.
“It could have been (better), but at this stage I’ll take it,” said Ames. “Some of the putts I had for birdies were tough putts – you were quite happy to take two putts and get out of there.
“Overall, it was a good day. I had lots of opportunities.”
Weir flirted with danger all day.
He sank par putts of about 10 feet at the first two holes before draining a marvellous chip for birdie from off the ninth green. Weir’s ball swung sharply from right to left across a slope and into the bottom of the cup.
“I hadn’t practised that shot,” Weir said with a laugh.
Trouble reared its head in the middle of Amen Corner after he found the back bunker at the short par-3 12th. He didn’t have much room to land his sand shot and ended up taking a double bogey.
Weir fought back with a birdie at the 13th before making one final bogey with a three-putt at No. 17.
After all that, the Canadian was pleased to only be five shots back of the co-leaders.
“I thought 67 would be a great score,” said Weir. “You don’t see 65’s out here anymore, it’s just too hard of a golf course.
“If someone shoots 65 that’s like shooting 60. It’s that hard.”
Indication of just how tough Augusta National was playing came from early starter Ian Poulter. He played a “flawless” round of golf that included a hole in one and still only matched Ames with a 70.
And he thought the course was ripe for the picking.
“The conditions are perfect,” said Poulter. “You can’t want for better golfing conditions.”
Weir felt all of Augusta National’s 7,445 yards and noticed that the patrons weren’t given too much to cheer about.
The 2003 Masters champion has noticed a change at the cathedral of golf.
“It’s usually a lot (louder) than that,” said Weir. “I saw Ian Poulter had a hole in one but I don’t think there was many eagles on 13 or 15.
“It seems pretty quiet to me out here.”
That could play into the hands of a guy like Ames.
He’s recently admitted to struggling with his self belief but seems to be in good spirits here. If the first round is any indication, he has what it takes to contend.
“No expectations,” said Ames. “Just get out and play golf and whatever it gives me, it gives me. I think that’s the best way for me to play golf.
“That’s the way I’ve been playing and that’s the way I’m going to play the next three days.”