Unflappable reigning champion Jordan Spieth defied his recent form to make a blistering start to his Masters defence with a flawless six-under-par opening round of 66 at Augusta National yesterday.
Spieth holds a two-shot lead from Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Danny Lee of New Zealand after a bogey-free round, while world No3 Rory McIlroy is firmly in the chasing pack, four shots off the lead on two under.
Until McIlroy’s back-nine surge, prompted by an eagle on 13, England’s Paul Casey had led the Brit pack charge. He was joined on three under by former US Open winner Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Spieth, however, took the plaudits.
“It is one of the better rounds I have ever shot,” said Spieth. “I got the most I could probably get out of it. I think it may have been better than the first round last year because of the [windy] conditions – I definitely could make that argument."
Not since 1999 has there been a winner of the Green Jacket from this continent, although eight of the top 12 in yesterday’s first round are European, and six are from the British Isles.
It has also been 14 years since the globe’s top-ranked player won the Masters but four birdies before the turn – his best front nine at Augusta – saw Australian Day echo Spieth’s blistering pace. It was followed, however, by a horrific back nine.
A triple bogey contributed to a wilting Day dropping five shots in three holes as he slipped to level par, a collapse which coincided with McIlroy, who is vying to become only the sixth player to complete a clean sweep of all four Majors, instigating his charge.
Australia’s Adam Scott, meanwhile, who leads the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup rankings and won back-to-back titles last month, carded three bogeys in the final seven holes to leave himself well adrift of the leading pack on four over par.
But that was nothing compared to Rickie Fowler, so often tipped to win a first Major, who is teetering on the brink of an early exit after eight-over-par round of 80, while the same fate beset England’s Andy Sullivan – a three-time European Tour winner in 2015.
Former world No1 and four-time Major winner Ernie Els carded the worst first-hole score at the Masters, taking nine shots, initially thought to be 10, at the par four.