RENO - Matt Bettencourt feels comfortable walking around the Montreux Golf & Country Club layout.
"I've played Montreux several times, probably 50 or 60 times at least other than tournament rounds," said Bettencourt, who will be defending his 2010 title at this year's 13th annual Reno-Tahoe Open which gets under way today.
"I feel comfortable out here," he added. "It's just a beautiful place and a great walk. I love everything about this property. Growing up in Northern California I used to come here a lot. I have so many great memories through childhood and amateur golf."
Bettencourt hopes is familiarity pays off with a second straight Reno-Tahoe championship. He would equal the feat of Vaughn Taylor, who won in 2004 and 2005. Eight past RTO champions are in the field this year.
Bettencourt, a Modesto native, has made the cut the last two tournaments. He tied for 40th at the RBC Canadian Open and tied for 27th at last week's Greenbrier Classic. Previous to that, he missed six of eight cuts.
"Yeah, I've struggled a little bit," Bettencourt said. "I had a couple of driver issues which I've gotten worked out. I battled a couple of little injuries. I had some bursitis a couple of months ago.
"But for the first time in the last few weeks I've felt really healthy and really excited about my game. It's coming around. I'm seeing some putts fall, which is important. I'm looking forward to having a really great week here."
Bettencourt earned a two-year exemption when he won last season. He has two top-10 finishes this year.
"It (the win) changed everything," Bettencourt said. "You know, security of being a lifetime member of the PGA Tour and having an exemption. There is not so much stress this year as far as retaining a card. I'm guaranteed.
"It's done everything for me. It's opened so many doors for me. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions was fantastic in Kapalua. I mean what a great way to start the year. It's a goal to get back there again. It's been an awesome ride."
Bettencourt will have plenty of competition from an ultra-talented field which includes eight former RTO champions and 54 players who have won at least one PGA title.
A sentimental choice is tournament host 46-year-old Scott McCarron, who lost in a four-way playoff back in 2004. He led after three rounds last year, but finished 35th after a final-round 81. His knowledge of the Montreux course means he's usually going to be on the upper half of the leaderboard.
McCarron tied for 38th at the AT&T National and tied for 17th at the RBC Canadian Open.
"I'm actually playing pretty well," McCarron said. "I had a good finish up in Canada. I was in seventh or eighth with nine holes to go, so kind of in the mix.
"This year has been tough. I had a little elbow injury that I was fighting through. I took three or four weeks off. I had a PRP injection which helped quite a bit. The last month I'm feeling good and now I'm starting to get into tournaments.
"Being in my category (126 through 150), I've played one week and had two weeks off. It's been tough to get on a roll. Lately I've been playing in a lot of tournaments, but missing a few cuts by a shot. Last week at Greenbrier I bogeyed No. 17 and missed the cut by a shot. I'm happy to be here at Montreux, a place I'm so familiar with. I've had a lot of great memories here. I've played some good golf here."
Other notables expected to contend for the championship are Robert Garrigus, Kevin Na, Kyle Stanley, Troy Matteson, Paul Goydos , Chris DiMarco and Chez Reavie, all of whom are ranked in the top-100 in money this year. Garrigus is the leading money winner entered at $1,387,787, while Na is at $1,259.
Goydos has won $1,111,116. DiMarco is coming off an 11th place finish at the Greenbrier Classic.
Where: Montreux Golf & Country Club
When: Today through Sunday
Starting time: 7 a.m. today and Friday; afternoon group tees off at noon
Purse: $3 million (winner's share is $540,000)
Defending champion: Matt Bettencourt
TV: Today and Friday: 3:30-5:30 p.m. on the Golf Channel; Saturday 3:30 to 6
p.m. on Golf Channel; Sunday 4-6 p.m. on Golf Channel