Coming into the season’s first major at Augusta National, Jordan Spieth was the hottest player with two runner-up finishes and a win in his last three starts on the PGA Tour. He kept his strong form going in the opening round of the Masters, firing an impressive eight-under 64 to take a three-shot lead over Charley Hoffman, Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Jason Day.
Spieth was practically flawless on Thursday, particularly for the first 14 holes, where he made eight birdies and zero bogeys. Even most of his not-so-great shots turned out well up to that point. On the famed par-3 12th, he thought he over-clubbed and hit his 8-iron over the green into the back bunker, but turned out it had ended up six feet from the hole in the shadow cast from the tall trees surrounding Amen Corner. He didn’t think he hit a good putt, either, but it caught the edge and dropped in for birdie.
“I’d rather just hit it and know that it’s going to be good, the shot and the putt,” said Spieth in his post-round press conference. “When that happens, normally it doesn’t happen twice in a row like that. I thought I hit the 8‑iron too far. I thought it was landing in the back bunker. I thought it did land in the back bunker, because we didn’t see in the shadow. The crowd cheered, and I looked back up, all right.
“The putt I pushed out there on that left‑to‑righter and it somehow held straight and caught the lip of the hole. I started walking after I hit it just because I was upset, it’s kind of the coolest par 3 in golf and I had a chance to make a two and didn’t hit a great putt but got away with it.
“When you’re getting good breaks, just the hardest thing to do is to just be okay with them, kind of laugh them off ‑‑ the easiest thing to do is just to be okay and laugh them off. The hardest thing to do is grind and try and take advantage of them and pick that next shot or that next putt that’s going to take advantage and turn that into a birdie. That’s what we did a really good job of today.”
On the following hole, the par-5 13th, the 21-year-old Texan knocked it to two feet and cleaned up his birdie to get to seven-under. Then, from behind a tree alongside the 14th fairway, Spieth nearly holed out before the ball hit the flagstick and stopped — once again — two feet from the cup. He tapped in for his third straight birdie in a row.
However, he ran into some trouble on the par-5 15th — just when it looked like he had a shot at posting the course record, which is nine-under. Spieth striped a perfect drive, splitting the fairway, and he had a chance to reach the green in two on his second, but he was in between clubs and overshot his approach with a hybrid past the green and almost into the pond (in retrospect, he said he wished he had taken his 4-iron instead). Then, his chip shot back landed short. He rolled a cautious putt from the fringe led to a three-jack and his sole bogey of the day.
Spieth closed with gusto, draining a 20-footer for birdie on the par-4 18th to finish on a high note.
“I saw Billy (Horschel’s) putt, so I knew what the putt did,” he said. “Just had to hit it with similar pace and a little bit higher line. When I struck the putt, I thought it might be just a touch short. With about three feet to go, I knew that it was going to go.
“It was cool when it went in. I probably gave more reaction over any other putt, other than the one I thought I missed. It was cool to get that extra stroke back. For me, I don’t like finishing rounds at a higher score than where I was at some point in the round. So I was 8‑under through 14; I didn’t want to finish any worse than 8‑under, so it was cool to get that one back.”
Speaking of Horschel, Billy probably had the quote of the day.
“(Horschel) said, to quote him, he said, ‘I need a tape recorder that just plays, nice hole, Jordan, on each tee box,” recounted Spieth, laughing.
Spieth showed emotion and feistiness throughout the round, which included constantly talking to his ball and reacting to the highs and lows with his body language — nothing out of the ordinary for him.
While he was very pleased with round, he thinks there’s room for improvement, particularly with his ballstriking off the tee.
“I think this goes down as one of the best rounds I’ve played,” said Spieth, who finished tied for second in his Masters debut last year. “I don’t think I had great control of the golf ball with my driver. I’d like to drive the ball better. I hit a couple of good ones at the end of the round, but I was kind of guiding them today. I didn’t strike it as well as I have leading into this tournament but I got away some good breaks. My shot on 10 was a foot from finding the bunker, instead it hits on the fairway and rolls to a perfect putt right up the hill.
“12 happened and then 13 I hit it way right, hits a tree and goes for the fairway. 14 hits the flag stick. It’s just one of those days where the breaks were all going my way. I’m going to need to strike the ball better to hold the lead.”
Afterward, when Spieth was asked if he knew how close he was to making history with the course record, not to mention tying the lowest score ever at a major championship, he didn’t realize that was the case.
“I was asked by Tom Rinaldi if I knew that 2‑under on the last four were ‑‑ he asked the same question,” he said. “I said, ‘Are you talking about the course record?’
“I wasn’t aware what the course record was here, let alone that it actually would have been the lowest round in major championship history. So that’s a little frustrating, because I took a hybrid instead of a 4‑iron out on 15.”
Despite his slight annoyance, Spieth is off to a strong start and if he’s able to hold on, he would become the second youngest winner in Masters history behind the one and only Tiger Woods, who posted a one-over 73 in his first competitive round in over two months.
Spieth’s game plan for the next 54 holes as he attempts to play his way to capturing his first major? Staying patient and not looking at scoreboards.