Jordan Spieth got more than he bargained for after starting the defence of his Masters title with a flawless 66 yesterday.
Spieth defied swirling winds at Augusta National to card six birdies and no bogeys in a round which he rated more highly than the opening 64 that set him on the way to a record-breaking wire-to-wire victory 12 months ago.
“I would have signed for two under (in the first round) and not even played the round, knowing the conditions that were coming up,” Spieth said.
“I got a lot out of the round with what I felt like was kind of average-ish ball-striking. (I) just scored the ball extremely well, which is something I’ve been struggling with this season.
“I got the most I could probably get out of my round. I think the round may have been better than the first round last year because of the conditions – I definitely could make that argument.
“The round a year ago, in my opinion, wasn’t even an eight-under round. It was more like a nine- or 10-under round.
“I messed up 15, which should have been a birdie at the time, considering I only had really four iron into the green.
“So the way I was playing, I would say, was better a year ago, but the score that came out of the round may have been (more) impressive (yesterday).
“I’m just very pleased with it and I put it up there with one of the best rounds I’ve played; one of the best rounds I’ve scored.”
Playing partner Paul Casey was similarly impressed after matching Spieth’s six birdies, but also recording three bogeys to card an opening 69.
“I was impressed by everything,” said Englishman Casey. “That was a flawless round of golf. When he got into trouble.... he bailed out in the right place and what could have been an error, he turned into a wonderful par save.
“One of the toughest days I’ve ever seen around Augusta National. I played a wonderful round of golf, but it was great to have a front row seat to watch that.”
Spieth started 2016 by shooting 30 under par to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions by eight shots in Hawaii, but still found his form being questioned after opening rounds of 79 in the Northern Trust Open and 76 in the Valspar Championship.
“Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out why people think I’ve been struggling,” the 22-year-old said with a laugh.
“We’ve finished in the top 20 eight out of the last nine events, what am I supposed to do? That’s more consistent than I even was at the beginning of last year.
“I think that everything that we do is building up around the major championships, and so we are trying to peak this week.
“We’ve done as good a job or better at this point than we did last year up until now. We try and get everything obviously firing to where I don’t have to think about much this week and just play the golf course.
“Obviously if we continue what we’re doing right now and it goes our way, then that would be a fantastic statement to have made. But I feel great about the way things have been.
“The toughest part is how to answer on why you’re not finishing first every time. We’re fine. Everything’s been good. I told everyone the last two weeks that it’s coming around, we’re putting in the right work. We’re just waiting for the scores and they are finally coming out.”
Former US Open champion Justin Rose gambled with a change of technique and was rewarded with an opening 69.
After admitting he had lacked any “fireworks” so far this season, Rose switched to a “claw” putting grip for the first time and recorded six birdies and three bogeys to finish alongside fellow Englishman Casey on three under par.
Rose, who finished joint second last year with a 14-under-par total that has only been bettered six times in tournament history, said: “The putting grip was a big change for me.
“I have adopted the claw grip, which is becoming more popular on Tour. I stumbled across it last week on my week off and it just felt too good to deny it. I second-guessed it a few times last week, but it stayed true and I putted well (yesterday). It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I have putted okay this year, but I feel if I am going to win the Masters I am going to have to putt great. I just felt in practice that it could benefit me. It was a gamble but I felt it was one worth taking.”
Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who played at Augusta two years ago as an amateur following his US Amateur win in 2013, began with a one-under-par 71.
The British Masters champion birdied the first two holes, but immediately surrendered half the advantage gained with a bogey at the third. Twelve consecutive pars followed before he birdied 16, but he bogeyed 17.
His fellow Sheffielder Danny Willett was two under through 14 holes. He had birdies at the third and ninth and no bogeys.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was three under with five to play after an eagle as he looks to complete a career grand slam.
World No 5 Rickie Fowler recovered from a double-bogey on the first with birdies on the second, third and fifth, but the 27-year-old ran up a triple-bogey eight on the 13th and a double bogey on the 16th in an opening 80.
South African Ernie Els took seven putts from inside three feet on the first to run up a sextuple-bogey 10, the highest score recorded on the 445-yard par-4 in tournament history.
World No 1 Jason Day was out in five under but stood only one under after 16 holes.