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Kuchar Stylish in Pro Debut

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Former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar got off to a good start in his professional debut at the Holden Australian Open. Kuchar fired a 3-under-par 69 to finish the first round one shot off the lead, held by a trio of players.
 
Australians Paul Gow and Peter O'Malley carded 4-under-par 68s Thursday at Kingston Heath to tie New Zealander Greg Turner for the top spot in Melbourne. Kuchar is tied for fourth place with defending champion Aaron Baddeley, Robert Allenby and Sweden's Pierre Fulke.
 
O'Malley was in position to distance himself from the field in the first round. The Aussie recorded six birdies in an eight-hole stretch to move to 7-under-par through 12 holes.
 
Then disaster struck.
 
O'Malley bogeyed the 15th and doubled the 16th to drop three shots in two holes. He parred out to finish the day in a three-way tie for the lead.
 
'Obviously I'm unhappy with the result of the finish because I had such a great round going, but it's not like I did anything wrong,' O'Malley said. 'I guess I hit two shots I thought were perfect and they got unlucky and went too far.
 
'I played a fantastic round of golf and I guess it's a shame to finish how I did because I didn't do that much wrong. I thought I played a great game today and I putted fantastic.'
 
Kuchar played the round of his professional life on Thursday. Then again, it was his first pro start. The man who succeeded Tiger Woods as the U.S. Amateur champion carded four birdies on the difficult Kingston Heath course, including one on his first hole.
 
Since winning America's most prestigious amateur event, Kuchar has steadily slipped off the public's radar. Despite a pair of inspired performances at the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open, the 22-year-old Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has missed four cuts in eight PGA and European Tour starts over the past two seasons. His best finish in that time span came in a tie for 22nd at this year's Standard Life Loch Lomond.
 
Now, Kuchar finds himself where many expected him to be - near the top of the leaderboard alongside some of the game's best.
 
In addition to being tied with Allenby, who owns a pair of 2000 PGA Tour titles, Baddeley and Fulke, a multiple winner in Europe this season, Kuchar is slightly lower than a number of past major champions. Nick Faldo opened in 1-under-par 71, while Greg Norman carded an even-par 72. American Mark O'Meara didn't fare so well Down Under, the 1998 Masters and British Open champion posted a 4-over-par 76.
 
'It's definitely in my mind to win here,' said Kuchar, whose best performance in a professional tournament was a tie for 14th at the '98 U.S. Open.
 
Wednesday, Kuchar played his practice round with Greg Norman, who has become a mentor to him.
 
'Greg has been great to me,' Kuchar said. 'He has always been a role model of mine. I have emulated his swing and I have tried to conduct myself in the same way he does.'
 
Kuchar would also like to emulate Baddeley. Last year, as an 18-year-old amateur, the Aussie won his country's biggest event. He's back to defend in 2000, and he's trying to collect the $250,000 first-place check he missed out on a year ago.
 
Following his first-round 69, Baddeley said: 'I drove well and putted pretty well, but there were a few loose iron shots. A few things need fine tuning, and hopefully (Friday) I can shoot a better score.'

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