One step at a time for Spieth, McIlroy

Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller line up a putt during the opening round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday. The American carded a six-under 66 to take the first-round lead.
Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller line up a putt during the opening round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday. The American carded a six-under 66 to take the first-round lead.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AUGUSTA • The past 12 champions at the Masters have all shot 71 or better in the first round, which is good news for Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, not so much for Tiger Woods and some of the other favourites.

McIlroy (69) was pleased with his start on Thursday, when Spieth took advantage of benign afternoon conditions to set a cracking pace at six-under 66.

McIlroy, going for the final leg of the career Grand Slam, said his first-round score would allow him to be a bit more patient.

"It's such a hard course to play catch up on," said the Northern Irishman, after breaking 70 in the first round for only the second time in 10 starts at Augusta National.

"If you start to chase it around here, that's when you start to make mistakes. But to be right up there and have the ability to stay patient, because of the position I'm in, that's a nice luxury I have over the next few days."

Spieth will not get carried away with his good start though, with the memory of his 2016 collapse still fresh in his mind.

The 2015 champion managed to squander a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play and admitted: "You know, whether it's tomorrow or it's Saturday or Sunday, I'll always have demons out here.

  • LEADERBOAD

  • FIRST ROUND (selected, USA unless stated) 66 Jordan Spieth

  • 68 Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar

  • 69 Li Haotong (Chn), Rory McIlroy (Nirl), Charley Hoffman, Adam Hadwin (Can), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson (Swe)

  • 70 Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Marc Leishman (Aus), Rickie Fowler, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

  • 71 Vijay Singh (Fij), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)

  • 72 Fred Couples, Justin Rose (Eng), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)

  • 73 Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson

  • 75 Jason Day (Aus), Adam Scott (Aus), Daniel Willett (Eng), Jon Rahm (Esp)

  • 76 a-Doc Redman

  • 81 Sergio Garcia (Esp)

"But I'll always have a tremendous amount of confidence. Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn't."

No active player has more Green Jackets than Woods.

But the Masters patrons who flocked to watch the four-time champion's first round of a Major tournament in 963 days did not see the dominant Woods of old.

In his previous 78 trips around Augusta National, Woods had played the course's four longest holes in 150 strokes under par. On Thursday, he covered those par-fives in even par. It was only the fifth time in 21 Masters starts that he had failed to birdie at least one of those holes.

But he provided a clinic in grit, taking his followers on a roller-coaster ride that ended in a 73.

"I could have easily let the round slip away from me, but I got it back," said Woods, who was three over after 12 holes.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson also signed for a 73 while Justin Thomas (74) and Jason Day (75) did not get off to ideal starts either.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'One step at a time for Spieth, McIlroy'. Print Edition | Subscribe