By Cam Huffman
Greenbrier Classic champion Ted Potter Jr. is enjoying the biggest perk he received from his first PGA TOUR victory in White Sulphur Springs last July, and he doesn’t want it to end.
The Ocala, Fla., native carded a 4-over-par 76 during Thursday’s opening round of the Masters. That mark was good enough for a tie for 70th and put him 10 shots behind co-leaders Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia, who are 6-under after the first 18 holes.
The top 50, as well as any player within 10 shots of the lead, will make the cut after today’s second round under a new rule that will allow more players to stay in Augusta through the weekend. That’s the goal for Potter, who has waited most of his life for the opportunity he’s had this week.
“I definitely want to play the weekend,” said Potter, who will tee off at 11:29 a.m. today in a group with David Toms and Richard Sterne. “I’m just going to go out there and have a good time with it. If I shoot a couple under and it gets me into the weekend, I’ll be happy.”
Potter’s first-ever Masters round started well enough. Admittedly filled with nerves on the first tee, Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest champion hit his opening drive right down the middle and then parred the first hole.
He carded another par on the par-5 second and then birdied No. 2 to move to 1-under.
“You’re always going to have a little bit of nervous butterflies or whatever, but I think winning the par 3 contest helped to relax me a little bit,” he explained. “I got off to a good start. That was a key for me, and I settled in pretty good. The greens are fast. I just have to get used to how they are.”
Potter gave that stroke back with a bogey on No. 4, and he moved to 2-over with back-to-back bogies on Nos. 6 and 7.
Just when it looked as though he might lose his round, though, Potter birdied No. 9 to move back to 1-over.
Bogeys on Nos. 11 and 14 put Potter at 3-over on an eventful round, but an eagle on the par-5 15th put the 29-year-old back in good position.
Then came the disastrous 17th hole when Potter pulled his tee shot to the right, got back to the fairway with his second shot and then put his third shot on the green 30 feet from the hole.
His putt rolled up the ridge and then back down, but it picked up speed and rolled past the hole and off the other side of the green. He needed two more strokes to reach the hole from there, and he finished with a double-bogey and ended up 4-over-par.
“I thought I played a decent round,” said Potter, shaking off the frustrating conclusion. “Seventeen obviously bit me for my round today. If I could have parred there and shot 1-over, I would have been happy with the start. But at 4-over I’ve got some work to do.”
However Potter’s first Masters trip ends, Potter said it will be a rewarding and valuable experience. A 10-year pro, it took the lefty a great deal of work to reach golf’s mecca. Until arriving last Thursday to begin his preparation, Potter had only been to Augusta National as a Masters fan.
“I knew how the course was laid out, but I never knew how the greens are,” Potter explained. “Obviously, you don’t get to walk on them (as a patron).”
Now that he can, he’s going to make that jaunt last as long as possible.
The other area connection on the course at Augusta National this week is The Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson.
The nine-time major champion — the 1977 and 1981 Masters included in that mark — struggled to a 7-over-par 79.
Watson was 1-under after a birdie on No. 3 — which saw him hit a hybrid off the tee and then hit a gap wedge to within 15 feet before making a tough putt — but he gave that stroke back with a bogey on No. 5. He followed that with another on No. 6 and then double-bogeyed No. 7 as his round fell apart.
Bogeys on Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 13 added to the day’s misery.
“Conditions were good,” said the 63-year-old Watson, who still takes to the course ready to compete, not just for sentimental sake. He finished tied for 18th in 2010 “There wasn’t any wind. Some of the pins were tough, but with no wind it should have been a little bit easier than 79 for me.”
Watson, who was among the all-time Masters leaders in scoring average with a career average of 72.44 coming into Thursday’s round, will need an exceptional trip around Augusta National today if he hopes to stick around for the weekend. He’ll tee off at 11:40 a.m., along with Ryan Moore and Kevin Streelman.
Watson’s larger focus may be on the Ryder Cup. The United States team captain said he’s been keeping a close eye on the field in the Masters.
“I’m watching the young players out here,” he said. “There’s some youngsters that I have in the back of my mind that I’ve learned about and I’m going to start watching.”
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.