The change of venue helped, as did the opponent.
Tiger Woods was flawless last year at soggy La Costa Resort in beating Ames, 9 and 8. On smooth greens in the high desert north of Tucson, Ames won the first four holes and never let up against a Swede who made only one birdie at The Gallery.
Ames, who grew up in Trinidad & Tobago and now lives in Calgary, didn't even realize he had won the match after chipping in for birdie on the 11th and final hole. Then he called his wife, who was surprised to hear from him so soon.
Ames said the conversation went like this:
"You're done?" she said.
"Yeah. I played 11 holes," he replied.
"I won't be coming home tonight," he said.
And he said there was a simple explanation for the sudden turnaround.
"It's nice to be out of Carlsbad," Ames said. "I saw the ball going in the hole for a change, rather than bouncing."
The change of venue didn't matter to Ernie Els. He stopped coming to La Costa for two years and looked forward to a new golf course in dry condition with smooth greens. The Big Easy still made a quick exit, missing four putts inside 10 feet and losing, 4 and 2, to Bradley Dredge of Wales.
Els was the highest seed (No. 5) to lose in the first round among early starters.
Woods was 1 up on J.J. Henry through six holes. Jim Furyk was all square with Brett Quigley through six holes, while Phil Mickelson was behind in the battle of lefties as Richard Green of Australia was 1 up at the turn.
Only five of the first 16 matches went the distance, and two of them went overtime. Padraig Harrington rallied to beat Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood in 19 holes, and Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Goydos traded clutch birdies on the closing holes before the two-time Masters champion beat him with a birdie on the 19th hole.
Ames was the only guy who made it a short day on a sunny, mild day in the desert.
Trevor Immelman played the first match, lost the first hole on a three-putt par, then let Thomas Bjorn self-destruct. The South African won, 6 and 5, by never losing another hole as Bjorn struggled off the tee.
"Trevor played nicely without doing anything special," Bjorn said in another blunt display of honesty. "It was probably the easiest game he will ever win. Disappointing to come all this way for that."
Ames had never made it out of the first round in two previous tries, and he must have wondered whether that streak would continue when he picked up a bad cold last week in Riviera and felt miserable during his practice rounds.
The shotmaking lifted his spirits, for sure.
"I didn't know what to expect because of the way I felt," said Ames, who next faces Vijay Singh. "I went through my normal routine _ see a shot, hit a shot kind of thing."
The short game that carried Els to a tie for third last week at Riviera abandoned him Wednesday. Dredge didn't make a birdie on the front nine and still had a 1-up lead, and then the Welshman pulled away.
Dredge knew it might be his day when Els was in front of the green on the par-5 fifth, then took four shots to get in the hole, missing a 3-foot par putt.
"Very unlike Ernie," Dredge said. "All of a sudden, you're thinking, 'He doesn't look quite as sharp as perhaps he normally is.' You expect him to play great all the time."
One bad round is all it takes at this tournament. Ames learned that a year ago, and found the other side far more appealing.