Ricky Barnes might be at the Masters, instead of watching it on TV with his roommates at the University of Arizona, the way he has the last three years. And the guy playing alongside him might be Tiger Woods, instead of just another college senior whose monthly living expenses don't equal Woods' cleaning bill. And judging by the scores, Augusta National might be playing longer and tougher than it has at any time in the last 15 years.
But the kid does not scare easily.
After completing 28 holes Friday, he was at 1-under and clinging to fourth place.
'If you come out here ready to settle for a missed cut or something like that,' Barnes said, 'you're out here for the wrong reason.'
At least Barnes comes by his bravado honestly, same as his athletic pedigree.
His father, Bruce, played two seasons in the NFL as a punter for the New England Patriots, and older brother Andy, who is carrying his bag, played on the Canadian tour and is spending this season playing Monday qualifiers on the PGA Tour.
Talk about growing up in a competitive household: the brothers have been playing against each other since Ricky was as tall as a putter and now he's 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. They went head-to-head two months ago at the Tucson Open, and the desire to zing each other hasn't subsided one bit.
Coming off the 18th hole after his opening round 69 - seven shots better than playing partner Woods - someone asked Andy Barnes whether Ricky was young enough to ignore the pressure that was mounting.
'He's just dumb enough ... ' Andy began.
But his questioner cut him off with, 'I said 'young enough.''
'I heard what you said,' Andy said, flashing an ever-widening grin.
The only thing that really matters at the moment, though, is whether Ricky Barnes is good enough to hold his place among the pros, as opposed to the college crowd he's been running with. Phil Mickelson, who played his college golf at nearby rival Arizona State, has watched Barnes long enough to vouch for him.
'I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed there for 72 holes. In fact,' Mickelson said, 'I expect that type of play out of him.'
Barnes didn't know what to expect when he arrived at the Masters. The only thing that worried him in the least was getting his opening tee shot into the fairway. So naturally, Woods sidled over, said, 'Relax, things are going to be OK. It's going to be a long day.'
Sure enough, Barnes short-armed his opening swing and sent a hook skidding into the left rough. Being the cool character he is, Barnes promptly found it and knocked it on the green. Tiger sidled up a second time.
'He said, 'See'' Barnes recalled, 'and I was like, 'OK.''
OK doesn't quite capture the up-and-down quality of Barnes' day. He was great in the lousy weather that dominated the morning and not so great in the benign conditions of the afternoon. The only constant was that he followed all but one of his bogeys with a birdie at the next hole, and after making a double at the 14th, he nearly eagled No. 15.
'That's what I was most proud about,' Barnes said.
It was harder to say what made Bruce and Cathy Barnes proudest.
His mother, a schoolteacher, probably was most impressed by his demeanor
'He was a hothead growing up, but now we think it's because he's such a perfectionist. It's one reason why he reminds me of Tiger Woods.'
His length off the tee is another. But that's not what impressed his father.
'It's probably his imagination,' Bruce Barnes said. 'When he gets into trouble, he can be really creative. He's got a short game I'd kill for. He had that early on.'
That's one reason why Bruce didn't mind that Ricky's last competitive football game was his freshman year in high school.
'I never pushed them in that direction. I knew for a fact unless you're really good AND really lucky, the chances of a long career in the NFL are really bad.'
Besides, nobody in the family ever lacked for competitive juices. Though Ricky gave up basketball in high school as well, he still plays pickup games at school, where one of his roommates was starting Wildcat forward Rich Anderson.
'That's why,' Barnes said, pointing, 'I have these six stitches over my eye.'
If the apple really doesn't fall from the tree, it's easy to see where Ricky learned his deadpan delivery. Asked about his NFL career, his dad summed it up this way:
'I got picked the same year the Patriots took Sam Cunningham, John Hannah and Darryl Stingley. It was a pretty good draft,' he recalled, 'except for me.'
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