Jor­dan Spi­eth off to a fly­ing start at Masters

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY AL­LAN KELLY

Jor­dan Spi­eth pro­duced one of the great­est rounds of golf in ma­jor his­tory on Thurs­day with a 64 to lead by three strokes af­ter the first round of the 79th Masters.

The 21-year-old Texan at one stage looked in line to be­come the first player to shoot be­low 63 in a ma­jor — a mark cur­rently shared by 24 golfers — but a poor ap­proach shot to the 15th led to his only bo­gey and nudged the record ag­o­niz­ingly out of his grasp.

Still, Spi­eth closed with a 20-footer for an ninth birdie at the last to sur­pass fel­low young gun Rory McIl­roy as the youngest player to have led the Masters af­ter the open­ing round and un­der­lined once again his huge po­ten­tial.

Tied for sec­ond on his de­but last year, Spi­eth ended the day at Au­gusta Na­tional as sole leader, three shots clear of a re­ju­ve­nated South African vet­eran Ernie Els, Eng­land’s Justin Rose, Aus­tralian Ja­son Day and Amer­i­can Charley Hoffman.

“It’s nice to put my­self in a po­si­tion now where I can re­ally stay pa­tient, dig in and keep giv­ing my­self op­por­tu­ni­ties and not worry about any­thing else,” Spi­eth said.

“I can pretty much con­trol my own des­tiny from here. And pleased to be in that po­si­tion here again.

“I was lead­ing last year at one point by a cou­ple of shots on Sun­day, it didn’t go my way.

“I know how many things can hap­pen in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship and I try and learn from last year, and stay pa­tient th­ese next three rounds.”

The su­perb per­for­mance by the young Texan eclipsed the two big sto­ry­lines that were the talk of Au­gusta at the start of the day con­cern­ing Tiger Woods and Rory McIl­roy.

The 39- year- old Woods re­turned af­ter two-month time­out he called on him­self to try and piece back to­gether his once dom­i­nant game.

But, af­ter en­joy­ing a promis­ing buildup to the tour­na­ment, Woods once again strug­gled at times, es­pe­cially early on, as he clat­tered a cou­ple of drives into the trees, mis­judged chips and then found the wa­ter of Rae’s Creek at the 13th en route to a 73.

It could have been worse for him were it not for some des­per­ate scram­bling to re­pair the dam­age done by his way­ward shots.

It was a step for­ward for him in some ways af­ter his woe­ful per­for­mances ear­lier this year, but it still leaves him with a fight on his hands just to make the Masters cut, some­thing he last failed to do in 1996 when he was still an am­a­teur.

Woods Up­beat

Woods was, how­ever, up­beat over his show­ing, say­ing that the un­usu­ally soft Au­gusta greens had been his main prob­lem.

“I felt good. I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot three­un­der par,” he said.

“Our en­tire group was re­ally strug­gling at the greens. We were talk­ing about how slow they were to­day. We had a hard time hit­ting the putts hard enough.”

World num­ber one McIl­roy, aim­ing to be­come just the sixth man in golf­ing his­tory to com­plete a ca­reer Grand Slam of the four ma­jors, set­tled for a quiet day.

His one-un­der 71, which con­tained three birdies and two bo­geys, was largely with­out in­ci­dent and he would have been even more hand­ily placed if not for Spi­eth’s late fire­works.

Still the 25-year-old, a four-time ma­jor win­ner, said he was con­tent with his day’s work.

“Yeah, I just kept telling my­self to be pa­tient out there to­day. It was a tricky day. The wind was swirling a lit­tle bit. Pin po­si­tions were tough. Any­thing un­der par I felt was a pretty good score,” he said.

“It was nice to pick up a cou­ple birdies on the back nine, on the par-fives there. Pretty sat­is­fied with to­day’s work.”

Ea­gle Boosts Els

Els, play­ing in his 21st Masters at the age of 45 and with two run- ner-up fin­ishes to his name, rode an ea­gle on the 15th to record his best score at Au­gusta Na­tional since 2003.

He missed the cut last year af­ter rounds of 75 and 74 that left him feel­ing hugely frus­trated and in doubt over whether he could ever again com­pete for the top prize at Au­gusta.

“Kind of, you get fed up with your­self. Never with Au­gusta, you know, but your­self with the mis­takes that you make,” he said.

A stroke fur­ther back from Els, Rose, Day and Hoffman and tied for six were Spa­niard Ser­gio Garcia and Amer­i­can Rus­sell Hen­ley.

Day had threat­ened to match Spi­eth when he got to six un­der with two to play, but a way­ward drive led to a bo­gey at 17 and he had to scram­ble for par at the last.

“I’m just happy that I got in at five-un­der. Still got three days left,” he said.

“Jor­dan’s play­ing phe­nom­e­nal golf. That stretch of golf that he’s played over the last 11, 12 events, is just amaz­ing. And I think ev­ery­one knows that he’s the one to beat this week.”

De­fend­ing cham­pion Bubba Wat­son was solid en route to a 71 — the same as McIl­roy and name­sake Tom Wat­son, who at 65 be­came the old­est player in Masters his­tory to break par.

Three-time win­ner Phil Mick­el­son was well-placed on 70 while 2012 win­ner Adam Scott set­tled for a level par 72.


Jor­dan Spi­eth holds up his ball af­ter putting on the 13th hole dur­ing the first round of the Masters golf tour­na­ment in Au­gusta, Ge­or­gia on Thurs­day, April 9.

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