Jordan Spieth resumed normal Augusta National service with a serene six-under-par 66 to lead the field by two shots after the opening round of the Masters.
The young American came into the tournament on the back of some rather indifferent form, by his own high standards, but was still among the favourites due to his stunning record over the course. And once again he proved why he is such a hard man to pass at Augusta, when compiling a near faultless round of golf.
Two under par after three holes, he gave shots back at five and seven, but then eagled the par-five 8th, and then racked up five consecutive birdies from the 13th to take him to seven under par and three shots clear of the field. His only blemish on the back nine came at the 18th, where he found trouble off the tee, and had to make a 50-foot up-and-down from off the green to drop a single shot.
Speaking after his round, Spieth said: “If I look back on my highlights for the day, I’d say I had three of them. Two of them were bogeys and one was an eagle. My bogey save that I made on seven was a fantastic putt that kept it going, I saw a putt go in. It was a very difficult putt, and I could have dropped to over par, and it led to stepping on eight tee feeling regrouped. I hit two beautiful shots and made a three there, and then on 18 – unfortunately, I’ve had to do some interesting things on 18 in my career here. That was actually one of the more comfortable tee shots for me. I just wasn’t very on it with the driver today, and I was playing a fade and just kind of got it there early. But it was a beautiful chip shot. I probably couldn’t have gotten closer with a whole bucket of balls.”
The chasing pack is lead by fellow Americans Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar, who both shot 68s, with Kuchar coming home in just 31 shots after knocking in five birdies from the 10th. Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Rafa Cabrera Bello are leading the Europeans, after all three impressed with three-under par 69s.
McIlroy, who is on the hunt to complete a grand slam of major titles, birdied the first and three of the four par-five holes to make a solid start to his week, with the only blemish coming at the seventh. He made crucial par saves in the final three holes, to move into a share of fourth position.
“I made one mistake, the bogey on seven,” said McIlroy. “But apart from that, I missed a couple of birdie chances early on, and I just told myself to stay patient. This is my best start in a few years, and as it’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on, I’m pleased to be right up there and have the ability to stay patient.”
Patience was one thing lacking in defending champion Sergio Garcia’s armoury, with the Spaniard facing an early exit after carding a nine-over-par 81. He dropped eight of those shots at a single hole – the par-five 15th – where he managed to find the water in front of the green five times with a wedge in his hand, to rack up a 13 – a record-equalling tally for a single hole in Masters’ history.