AUGUSTA -- It was only a few days ago. Mild-mannered Matt Kuchar was plugging along within an improving professional career and looking forward to his fourth Masters.

Then suddenly he was placed in a first-round grouping with one Eldrick Woods. So today Kuchar, Tiger and K.J. Choi will play golf with entire nations and the entire National Enquirer staff watching.

Welcome, Matt.

Reaction?

"It will be exciting," Kuchar said Wednesday.

The 31-year-old Georgia Tech graduate plans to make the best of it, smiling alongside the guy tagged with the Scarlet Letter.

"It will probably be the most-watched golf event in the history of golf," Kuchar said. "And I'll be a part of it."

Well done. Brilliant approach shot.

Kuchar didn't whine.

He didn't say the Tiger grouping might not mix well with a guy playing the best golf of his life.

Or, "C'mon, why can't I play my round in peace with Nick Watney and Heath Slocum?"

Kuchar sounded as sincere about his enthusiasm for today as Augusta National chairman Billy Payne was earlier in the day in chiding Woods.

"Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children," Payne said in a prepared statement during his annual state-of-the-Masters news conference.

Here comes the circus, rolling down the front nine, through Amen Corner and following every step Tiger takes.

"I have a front row seat," Kuchar said.

He is prepared, or as much as possible given the unprecedented train wreck circumstances.

The sizzling Kuchar is sixth on the PGA Tour money list ($1,574,212 over nine tournaments).

As U.S. Amateur champion and a Georgia Tech sophomore, he was in a Masters grouping with Woods in 1998, when Tiger was defending champ.

Kuchar played with Woods one other time, at a tournament in Boston in 2005.

For much of Wednesday it was easy to forget Tiger tripping over himself.

Arnie played in a Par-3 Tournament threesome with Jack and Gary Nicklaus, and dropped a long putt late.

Johnny Miller was close to the pin on No. 2.

Fuzzy Zoeller was in the early lead, gripping and grinning.

It gets more serious today.

Kuchar is No. 34 in the world rankings with two career victories. His Masters invitation for this year originally was secured by finishing among the top 30 money winners on the PGA Tour in 2009.

Kuchar has not played at the Masters since 2002. He had his best Augusta finish, tied for 21st, in that first appearance in 1998, when Tiger was in tow at the start.

"I thought he would be steely-eyed," said Kuchar, married with two children and living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "He was focused but he was real nice and easy to talk to. He was great."

Not that Woods and Kuchar are making Augusta dinner plans.

"Our relationship is non-existent," Kuchar said. "We exchange pleasantries. I think we admire each other's game. But I don't have his cell phone number."

Shhh … No wisecracks, please.

Tiger Woods is trying to focus. With a front row seat at the circus, so is Matt Kuchar.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or (843) 937-5593.