Spieth charges to first-round Masters lead

If you’re looking for a true horse for the course at the Masters Tournament, it’s doubtful anyone who’s ever played the event in its 84 years fits the bill better than Jordan Spieth.

Any question about that was dispelled by Spieth’s performance on Thursday in the first round of play at Augusta National Golf Club as he fashioned a splendid 6-under-par 66 to sweep to a two-shot lead.

Spieth, the 2015 champion, reached 7-under with birdies on the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes before hitting his drive on the closing hole left and into the trees. From there, he pitched out and was left with a 250-yard right-turning shot up the hill, which he hit to the left of the raised putting surface.

He nearly holed his fourth shot, with the ball stopping inches from the cup, for a bogey that secured his round of 66.

“I knew left of the green I had room there, it was obviously a fantastic shot,” Spieth said of the chip on ESPN after his round. “I couldn’t get it closer with a bucket of balls.”

Spieth has led or co-led nine of his 17 career competitive rounds in this event, and finished second, first, second and 11th in his first four times to play the Masters.

He had an eagle and two bogeys on the front-side and made a switch to a new glove on the 13th fairway when he felt his hand slipping on some of his shots.

“After that I started pin-seeking,” Spieth said. “I had a lot of good numbers, and I was able to hit some nice full shots and that makes a big difference here. This is just Round 1, and I know a well as anybody that anything happens at Augusta National.

“I’m not going to get ahead of myself. It is just about riding the momentum from last week (where he finished tied for third) and off this first round. It’s about me getting comfortable with my putting and I started seeing some results last week.”

Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar are two strokes back after shooting 68s. Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Adam Hadwin of Canada, Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain and Haotong Li of China share fourth place after 69s in conditions that were cool and mostly calm.

“Augusta National has a little switch they can turn on at night to take any moisture out of this golf course,” McIlroy said after his round. “The greens were so much firmer and faster today than we’ve been practicing on all week, and that was an adjustment. If you get a little bit out of position on these greens it leads to defensive golf.”

Early-wave leaders Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, Marc Leishman of Australia and 2007 champion Zach Johnson are at 70 along with late finishers Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, while Vijay Singh of Fiji (who won this event in 2000), Satoshi Kodaira of Japan, Cameron Smith of Australia, Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa shot 71 on Thursday to finish five strokes off the lead.

Amateur Doug Ghim holed out from the fairway on the 18th hole for his second eagle of the day, placing him in a group at 72 that included Italy’s Francesco Molinari, Kyle Stanley, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Tommy Fleetwood of England and 1992 champion Fred Couples.

Four-time champion Tiger Woods was among a group at 73 after the morning wave that included Ted Potter Jr., Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Jason Dufner, Pat Perez and Daniel Berger.

“It’s going to be a packed leaderboard, we all know that, and the weather is going to be changing,” Woods said. “It’s going to be a fun test the next 54 holes.”

Defending champion Sergio Garcia of Spain tied a dubious mark with a 13 on the par-5 15th hole on Thursday. Garcia came to the 15th tee at 2-over-par, but hit five consecutive shots into the pond that fronts the putting surface by landing them on the sloped green and watching as his ball rolled back into the water.

His score on the 15th tied the course record for shots on a single hole and set the record for the highest score on No. 15. The previous high score on the hole was an 11. Garcia made an eagle 3 on the same hole in the final round last year en route to victory.

Garcia made a tough, side-hill 10-foot putt to end the torture, and then birdied the par-3 16th on the way to a round of 81, tied with amateur Matt Parziale for 85th in the 87-player field.

–Field Level Media