Jordan Spieth made a sensational start in his bid to become just the fourth player to record back-to-back Masters wins by taming tough conditions at Augusta National to open with a flawless six-under-par 66 in the event’s 80th staging.
For an entirely different reason, Ernie Els also provided a big talking point after the South African six-putted from less than three feet as he ran up a nine at the first.
Only Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) have managed to successfully defend titles in this event, but Spieth’s stunning start was an indication that he’s returned here this week on a mission.
The 22-year-old Texan, who finished runner-up on his debut in 2014 before claiming the Green Jacket with a record-equalling 18-under total last year, has now broken par eight times in nine rounds on this course and his cumulative total for the event is 29-under-par.
“I’m just very pleased with that start,” admitted Spieth after finishing with a birdie, having earlier made gains at the third, sixth, eighth, 10th and 13th holes on a blustery day in Georgia. “In fact, I put it up there with one of the best rounds I’ve played in terms of scoring. I would have signed for two‑under today and not even played the round, knowing the conditions that were coming up. I got the most I possibly could have out of what I felt like was kind of average‑ish ball‑striking round. I scored the ball extremely well, which is something I’ve been struggling with this season.”
Spieth finished the day with a two-shot cushion over Irishman Shane Lowry and New Zealander Danny Lee while five Europeans - Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Soren Kjeldsen and Sergio Garcia - all shot 69s.
Els has been fighting the putting yips but thought he’d left his problems in the past earlier this year. But it was a horror show as the four-time major winner ran up the worst score in the event’s history by one shot at the opening hole here. The 46-year-old pulled his first attempt horribly then couldn’t get the ball in the hole, missing his fifth effort with a careless one-handed effort from a matter of inches.
The nightmare start contributed to Els opening with an 80, finding just four players below him in the 89-man field at the end of the day.
“I feel bad for Ernie,” admitted Spieth, having watched footage after finishing his own round. “I’ve had my moments – everybody has – from short range, where they just are not confident. And, on Augusta National’s greens with the wind blowing, it’s a place you certainly want to be comfortable.”