Jordan Spieth played his final practice round this week with Tiger Woods on Wednesday, and 24 hours later the 21-year-old Texan’s exquisite shotmaking and precise putting at Augusta National evoked stirring memories of so many similarly spectacular Woods-like performances in past Masters.
Spieth finished his stirring first round with one last 20-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole on a sunny, sometimes steamy spring afternoon punctuated later in the day by swirling breezes. Neither heat nor wind could do little to deter Spieth’s superb play and 8-under-par 64 that left him only a shot short of tying the course and major championship record.
Few were louder than on the 14th hole, when Spieth carved a 7-iron shot out of the rough and around a tree that sliced so nicely toward the hole, hitting the flag after three bounces and nearly dropping down for what could have been an eagle 2. Instead, he had to settle for a kick-in, two-foot putt for a birdie and said afterward “8-under out here is nothing to complain about.”
Now the youngest player ever to lead after a Masters first round, Spieth tied for second here last year in only his first Masters appearance. He had come into this tournament brimming with confidence as the hottest player on the PGA Tour in the past month, with a win and back-to-back second-place finishes in his past three starts.
“He’s just got a knack for playing golf,” fellow Texan and mentor Ben Crenshaw, who also practiced with Woods and Spieth on Wednesday, said earlier in the week. On this day, Spieth had a knack for making birdies in huge bunches, including four of his first five holes on the back nine.
That rousing run through 14 holes left him at 8-under and two shots clear of 45-year-old South African Ernie Els at the time. And when Spieth finally signed his card after a draining five-hour round, he had stretched that advantage to three shots over Els and three other players — Australian Jason Day, Englishman Justin Rose and Californian Charley Hoffman, all at 5-under 67. Day had a run of five conseccutive birdies on the back, but a bogey at 17 cost him solo second place.
“It’s one of the better rounds I’ve ever played,” Spieth said. “I definitely carried a lot of momentum into this week. … Everyone has been talking about leaving your legacy, and the hardest thing to do is leave that behind you. It’s tough to sleep on the lead, but at the same time I think I have the patience to handle it. I’ll try to take the same kind of mental attitude the next couple of days.”
There were plenty more intriguing developments in this riveting opening round, including a 1-over 73 from Miami’s Erik Compton, playing in his first Masters at the age of 35. The recipient of two heart transplants since the age of 12, Compton said he had no difficulty walking these hilly, demanding grounds and was actually pleased with the way he struck the ball.
“I played good golf,” said Compton, who qualified for the tournament with a tie for second last year in the U.S. Open. “I did everything I was supposed to do, missed only one fairway and hit 16 greens. I have to start making birdies on the par 5s, and I had too many three-putts. But I really played pretty well.”
There was plenty of frustration from many others in the field. Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world trying to win his third major in a row and complete a career Grand Slam, managed a 1-under 71, the same score posted by defending champion Bubba Watson, who chipped in for a par at the 17th. Woods, playing here after a two-month hiatus to work on what had been his deteriorating game, opened with a bogey at his first hole and had to scramble mightily to come in with a 73.