AUGUSTA — The kids don’t seem to be afraid of the Masters.
Led by Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama, who each shot 1-under 71s in Thursday’s first round, four of the five college-aged amateurs have a shot not only at making the cut, but at giving ESPN and CBS even bigger ratings by competing for the green jacket. They trail leader Lee Westwood by four shots and don’t seem to be intimidated by the course’s history, length or degree of difficulty.
Asked if he thinks he can stay on the leaderboard all four rounds, Cantlay didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I think so,” said Cantlay, a UCLA student who can draw from the experience of being the low amateur at last year’s U.S. Open.
Joining them are Corbin Mills and Kelly Kraft, who each shot 2 over. Kraft, who qualified by defeating Cantlay for the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship, tied Westwood for the best four-hole stretches of anyone Thursday. He ran off four consecutive birdies on Nos. 12-15. Though Kraft dropped two shots with bogeys on 17 and 18, he said he’s not afraid to attack.
“It shows that some of us amateurs can play,” said Kraft, who played at SMU. “I know all these guys, and I know all of them are really good players.”
None of them went as low as Ken Venturi, who holds the low score for an amateur with a 66 in the first round of the 1956 Masters.
But they did show they can play.
Mills, who qualified by winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links, scored the second-lowest of the four players from Clemson, three of whom are pros: Jonathan Byrd (par), Lucas Glover (3 over), and Kyle Stanley (3 over). Mills credited the alums for helping him with his preparation.
Other than saying how long the course is, and how the mud affected some shots, enjoyment seemed to outweigh intimidation. Corbin had no fear firing a 51-degree wedge three feet from the flag on No. 7 to save par. Kraft had no fear when hitting an 8-iron to within two feet of a pin protected by bunkers on No. 12 to start his birdie run.
“You hit good shots, and the scores will reward you,” Kraft said.
That innocence may be why the quartet played so well. Steve Stricker, a veteran on the tour, said after his round that he was sure a lot of the first- or second-timers must still feel uncomfortable.
“I feel comfortable, and I think is my 12th time,” he said.
Kraft and Mills said they were nervous on the first tee, but after that they settled down. Mills said he knows where the trouble is, so ignorance may not be necessarily bliss, but he’s using the power of positive thinking to keep going.
“I think if you stay confident and don’t get ahead of yourself and just let bogeys go when they come,” Mills said. “Patience, patience is all about this golf course. That’s what I’m going to do and just stay patient.”
Bryden Macpherson was the fifth of the young amateurs. The former Georgia standout shot 5 over, leaving him a lot of work to make the cut. But even he didn’t seem resigned to just one more round.
“I’m going to have to play well tomorrow to make the cut,” he said. “But it’s good. I’d prefer to be in this situation. ... Now I can just go out and play my heart out and add it up at the end.”