The Masters: Jordan Spieth fires 66 to claim two-shot lead at Augusta
By Keith Jackson at Augusta National
Last Updated: 06/04/18 9:28pm
Jordan Spieth again demonstrated his remarkable prowess at Augusta National as he charged into the first-round lead at the 82nd Masters.
Spieth put his early-season struggles firmly behind him to fire a superb six-under 66, including five consecutive birdies on the back nine, which earned him a two-shot lead over Tony Finau, while Rory McIlroy is just three off the pace after cruising to a 69.
Tiger Woods made his customary erratic start to the Masters, marking his first appearance since 2015 with a battling 73 following two late birdies, but defending champion Sergio Garcia looks to be heading for an early exit after a disastrous 15th hole, where he put five balls in the water and ran up a 13.
Spieth was in a class of his own on day one after he put himself on course for his first win since last year's Open, and he got off to a flying start with birdies at the second and third before slipping back to level following mistakes at five and seven.
But he responded by making the only eagle of the entire day at the eighth, and he negotiated the next four holes in par before beginning his march up the leaderboard with a well-crafted birdie at 13.
The 24-year-old gave a masterclass in distance control with his irons while backing it up with a hot putter, rolling in chances at each of the next four holes to vault three clear of the field, but he then carved his drive into the pines at 18 and was forced to pitch back out sideways.
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Faced with a lengthy third, Spieth knocked a hybrid long and left into the patrons, but he managed to limit the damage to a six with a sublime pitch to tap-in range.
Finau had earlier emerged as a surprise clubhouse leader just 24 hours after he dislocated his ankle while celebrating a hole-in-one during the Par 3 contest.
The American, who casually popped his ankle back into place after crashing to the turf, was given the all-clear to play after a morning MRI, and he recovered from a bogey at the first to make six birdies in a commendable 68.
Matt Kuchar birdied four of the last six holes to join Finau in a share of second, while Henrik Stenson looked set to make it three on four under until he bogeyed the last to take a little gloss off his 69.
McIlroy got off to the ideal start with a rare birdie at the first, although he missed further chances over the next five holes before a poor drive at the seventh cost him a bogey-five.
But that proved to be his only blemish of the round as he got the shot straight back at the next and took advantage of both par-fives on the back nine before superb par saves at each of the last three holes kept him at three under par.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler are one further back after solid 70s, while Woods did well to post a 73 despite slipping to three over with his fourth bogey of the round at the 12th after dumping his tee shot in Rae's Creek.
The four-time champion battled back with birdies at 14 and 16 and parred safely in to stay within seven shots of the lead, while last year's runner-up Justin Rose drained a good putt for birdie on the final green to sneak one ahead of Woods.
But Garcia has a mountain to climb if he is to play the weekend after he equalled the highest score made on any hole in Masters history at the 15th, where he spun five balls into the water before finally making a valiant 15-foot putt to avoid an outright, unwanted record.
Garcia's 81 was not the worst score of the day, however, as English amateur Harry Ellis endured a nightmare debut and stumbled home in 45 to card a 14-over 86.