Jor­dan Spi­eth strug­gles in first round af­ter ex­tra­or­di­nary Masters victory

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY PETE IACOBELLI

It’s been quite some time since Jor­dan Spi­eth had to ex­plain a per­for­mance this poor. The Masters cham­pion had a post­Mas­ters let­down in the open­ing round Thurs­day, shoot­ing 3-over 74 to end his run of 16 straight rounds un­der par. He blamed it all on him­self — and not the two-day cel­e­bra­tory me­dia tour in New York this week.

“I didn’t drive the ball well, didn’t par­tic­u­larly strike my irons well. My chip­ping and putting weren’t there,” he said. “It was just an off day.”

And the sort of per­for­mance that stands in stark con­trast with how Spi­eth played the past month. He won the Valspar Cham­pi­onship, fin­ished sec­ond at the Texas Open and lost a play­off in the Hous­ton Open be­fore cap­tur­ing the green jacket and his first ma­jor cham­pi­onship at Au­gusta Na­tional.

It was a lot to ask of any­one to come back just as strong, let alone a 21-year-old who hadn’t gone through it be­fore.

“No ex­cuses, I just didn’t have it to­day,” he said.

He bet­ter have it on Fri­day if he hopes to hang around for the week­end. Spi­eth stands eight shots be­hind Graeme McDow­ell and Matt Ev­ery, tied for the top at 5-un­der 66.

“Got a good feel­ing about to­mor­row,” Spi­eth said. “Feel like I got some swings in, got in some­what of a rhythm and can at least go out and feel the shots.”

Don’t bet against Texan.

He got into Sea Pines Re­sort late Tues­day night af­ter some 25 ap­pear­ances and in­ter­views in New York, in­clud­ing an ap­pear­ance with David Let­ter­man and see­ing the view atop the Em­pire State Build­ing. He ac­knowl­edged his prepa­ra­tion this week had suf­fered.

Spi­eth was greeted by a large gallery on the first tee, crowds five and six deep stretch­ing cell­phones to snap pic­tures and get video footage. “Way to go, Jor­dan,” some­one shouted af­ter his tee shot.

The ap­plause con­tin­ued through­out the round and, while Spi­eth ap­pre­ci­ated the sen­ti­ment, had dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing on his game.

“I was up­set about miss­ing the green and then there was a stand­ing ova­tion walk­ing up,” he said. “It’s like, `Thank you. I just hit a ter­ri­ble shot. Thanks.’ So it was kind of tough to find the bal­ance there.”

It was clear, though, this would not be the Spi­eth who tied the Masters’ scor­ing mark of 18-un­der 270 set by Tiger Woods in 1997.

He was in per­fect po­si­tion on the par-5 sec­ond, which played the eas­i­est in round one, when he left his ap­proach shot short and in the bunker. Spi­eth could not make an 8-footer to save birdie. He was short of the green again on the par-4 sixth hole, lead­ing to the first of three bo­geys — Spi­eth had just one bo­gey in his first 36 holes at

the young Au­gusta Na­tional.

The wheels truly came off at the par-3 14th when Spi­eth hit into the wa­ter and watched his third shot spin back about 15 feet from the cup. He made a dou­ble-bo­gey 5.

He hasn’t had many days like this in 2015 — and nei­ther had McDow­ell, who hadn’t shot lower than 71 in his pre­vi­ous 12 rounds, in­clud­ing all four at last week’s Masters when he tied for 52nd.

McDow­ell, though, found his game on the lay­out’s tight fair­ways and small greens. He had six birdies af­ter an open­ing bo­gey to move in front.

“It was great to feel com­fort­able out there to­day, see my lines, hit my speeds and make a few putts,” said McDow­ell, who has not won on tour since tak­ing this ti­tle in 2013.

It’s been a strange sea­son for Ev­ery, who won the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional last month yet hadn’t fin­ished bet­ter than 27th in any of his 11 other events.

He had birdies on four of his fi­nal eight holes, in­clud­ing a 50-foot chip in on the sixth hole and a 20-foot chip in on the sev­enth, to tie McDow­ell. Ev­ery stayed in the lead when he chipped to a foot on the eighth hole to save par.

“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” he said.

Af­ter Bae, de­fend­ing cham­pion Matt Kuchar led a group of five an­other stroke back at 68. Ian Poul­ter and for­mer Bri­tish Open win­ner Louis Oosthuizen were in a group of 12 at 69.

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