AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Jordan Spieth picked up where he left off 12 months ago with an opening 66 on Thursday, boosting his hopes of becoming just the fourth man to retain the Masters crown.
The Texan, just 21 at the time, was the first wire-to-wire winner in 40 years at Augusta National last year. And his flawless opener brought up the possibility he could do so again as he led by two strokes at the end of the first round.
"I put it up there with one of the best rounds I've played," he said after becoming the first golfer to lead the Masters for five rounds in a row.
"Being in this position is really cool. We just stay patient with what we're doing. We know how to win this tournament, we believe in our process and if the putts are dropping, then hopefully it goes our way."
Not since Jack Nicklaus in 1966 had a defending champion owned the outright lead after the first round. But the Texan matched the feat and could join Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo as the only back-to-back winners in Masters history.
Jordan Spieth's first-round 66 is his eighth under-par round in nine at the Masters.
Spieth reached the turn in 31 after birdies at the fourth, sixth and eighth holes and he added three others down the back nine at Nos. 10, 13 and 18.
His playing partner Paul Casey was hugely impressed.
"That was a flawless round of golf," said the Englishman, who shot a 69 on an increasingly blustery day. "One of the toughest days I've ever seen around Augusta National... it was great to have a front-row seat to watch that."
MASTERS ROUND 1
Par-72 Augusta National (Selected, USA unless stated)
66 Jordan Spieth
68 Danny Lee (Nzl), Shane Lowry (Irl)
69 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Paul Casey (Eng), Justin Rose (Eng), Ian Poulter (Eng)
70 Danny Willett (Eng), Rory McIlroy (Nir), Billy Horschel, Scott Piercy
71 Kevin Streelman, Jimmy Walker, Charley Hoffman, Brandt Snedeker, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Lee Westwood (Eng), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng)
72 Graeme McDowell (Nir), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Jason Day (Aus), Phil Mickelson, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Zach Johnson
74 Martin Kaymer (Ger)
75 Bubba Watson 76 Adam Scott (Aus)
Day 3: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 11.30pm
Spieth was the only player in the 89-strong field not to cough up a bogey. Just seven other players were able to score in the 60s.
New Zealander Danny Lee got closest after a 68, and he was joined at four under by Irishman Shane Lowry. A stroke further back were Casey, compatriots Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, Spain's Sergio Garcia and Dane Soren Kjeldsen.
Spieth's top rivals Jason Day and Rory McIlroy both threatened to keep pace with him during the afternoon's action but faded away.
World No. 1 Day carded three birdies and an eagle before the turn. But the Australian lost his way during a nightmare back nine that included three bogeys and a triple bogey as he carded a 72.
"Just got to keep pushing forward," said the 28-year-old. "It's not the way I planned it out but I felt like I played some really good golf up until then."
Career Grand Slam seeker McIlroy (70) also rued what could have been. He eagled the 15th to get to four under but promptly three-putted to hand one back and then bogeyed the last to fall to two under.
"If someone had given me a 70 on the first tee, I probably would have taken it," the Northern Irishman said.
"But being on the 16th tee where I was four under, I was probably thinking I could sneak in another one or two (birdies). To start going the other way is disappointing."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS