Sport Golf

Monday 16 January 2017

'I will think about wearing the Green Jacket, I am only human' - Shane Lowry right in the hunt at US Masters

Reigning champion throws down gauntlet with sizzling opening 66 on day of drama

Liam Kelly at Augusta

Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30

Shane Lowry, of Ireland, watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Shane Lowry, of Ireland, watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Jordan Spieth hits his approach to the 11th green (Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports)

Shane Lowry led a strong Irish and European challenge to Jordan Spieth's pacesetting 66 on a day of drama at the 80th Masters at Augusta National yesterday.

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Spieth threw down the gauntlet to all-comers with his six-under-par score which became the target to match from early afternoon.

But when the dust settled, Lowry, playing only his second Masters, was joint second with New Zealand's Danny Lee on four-under-par 68, and six of the top ten on the leaderboard were Europeans.

Lowry had a chance of sole second place when he got to five-under par at one point, including four consecutive birdies on holes two through six inclusive.

"I'm sure I'm going to be sitting back tonight thinking at some stage about wearing a green jacket. I'm only human. I'm going to do that," Lowry said.

"But I've just got to kind of give myself a slap in the face and get myself back into reality and try to get down to business and keep hitting good shots and see where that leaves me at the end of the week.

Rory McIlroy waves to the crowd after an eagle putt on the 13th green during the first round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy waves to the crowd after an eagle putt on the 13th green during the first round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

"Winning a major obviously is a big deal, it's something that you want to do as a golfer and it's nice seeing my name up there. But it's a long way to go yet, especially around this place. You're only ever a bad bounce away from a bit of a disaster, so you've just got to keep your head on. You've just got to keep trying to hit good shots and hit towards your targets and hopefully make a few putts, and that's all I'm going to try and do."

World No 1 Jason Day also looked the part, hitting the five-under mark after 14 holes only to derail at 15 and 16 where he scored six, six - bogey, treble-bogey - en route to a level-par 72.

Rory McIlroy struggled to gain momentum until an eagle three on 13 put a pep in his step, and moved him up the leaderboard to three-under.

A birdie four on the 15th moved him alongside Lowry on four-under par, two adrift of Spieth, but then he dropped back with bogeys on 16 and 18 for a two-under 70.

Apart from Spieth and Lee, the top of the leaderboard had a distinctly European look.

Lowry with 68 was supported by Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Soren Kjeldsen, and Sergio Garcia all on 69.

Graeme McDowell filed a level-par 72, and Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke took 76 on a day when strong gusting winds and fast greens made for testing playing conditions.

But kudos of the day belonged to reigning champion Spieth. Aged just 22, he was totally unfazed by the demands of defending the Green Jacket he won in such style last year.

Graeme McDowell chips onto the 2nd green during the first round of the 2016 The Masters
Graeme McDowell chips onto the 2nd green during the first round of the 2016 The Masters

Spieth started this tournament as he means to go on, slamming in a 66 to send a message to all challengers which basically says: "Take my Jacket if you dare."

Tied second on his debut here in 2014, and winner last year, Spieth has yet to card a round over par at Augusta.

"I enjoy this tournament more than anywhere else. It's easy for us," he said. "We don't have any or many distractions in our preparation, and we enjoy that you're able to kind of feel like you get enough done, and you have enough time to do everything, and I think that's useful when we start on the first hole," he said.

Spieth had to deal with the distraction of a slight crack in his driver on Wednesday which required fitting up a suitable replacement.

"I just took the shaft off and used four different heads. Titleist was still here, and they provided me with four of the same heads. We mixed around a little bit the swing weights.

"I hit probably five or six balls with the four heads, and chose what I thought was the best.

"Obviously not ideal, but I hit balls this morning before the round, and everything seemed fine.

"It worked out in today's round. I did hit a lot of three‑woods today but my driver didn't cost me anything today," said Spieth.

He was as good as his word, right from the moment he nailed his first birdie with a superb wedge shot which sent the ball spinning back to lie level with the flagstick inside three feet.

Pace and line were analysed to perfection, and as the ball rolled into the cup, a huge cheer erupted that echoed around the course.

On the par-three sixth, a 10-footer was holed for a solid two. Spieth notched up birdie number three on the eighth, the par-five 570-yarder, with a pitch to four feet, and another single putt on the card.

This, despite the wind swirling, gusting, causing players to pause and pause again as they shaped up to shots, but nothing seemed to bother the champion as he headed for Amen Corner at four-under par, having birdied the 10th. He came out of there in good shape, with pars on 11 and 12, and a birdie on 13 placed him ahead of the field at five-under par.

Last year Spieth scorched the field with a starting 64. This time, in tricky conditions and despite the pressure that even he must have felt, he had one more birdie left in him - a three on 18 - to make it a flawless 66.

Much of the pre-tournament speculation had included Rickie Fowler as a serious candidate to elevate himself from the ranks of "best players never to win a Major."

Nobody could be more surprised than Fowler that he was brought to his knees, metaphorically speaking, by the Augusta National course.

An 80, eight-over par, never looked likely to the player or to those who observed him in the build-up to yesterday's first round.

A treble-bogey eight on the par-five 13th was the nadir. Fowler looked shell-shocked as he reflected on a nightmare start to the tournament.

He turned at level-par after three birdies, a double-bogey and a bogey, but shot 44 for the homeward stretch.

"Golf's tough, it is a fine line, especially at this place. I mean, I go play a decent back nine and I'm three‑under par. It can go either way and it can definitely go the other way, the high number way, a lot easier than it can the low," he said.

The day had begun with the traditional tee-off by honorary starters Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, with Arnold Palmer present as well.

Around 2,000 patrons thronged the first tee and first fairway to honour these mighty men of the past, and then it was time for the present generation to get the tournament under way.

Tom Watson, 66, playing in his final Masters, has some work to do if he is to make the cut after a 74, two-over par.

"Yeah, I'm still there," said Watson.

The Masters, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.00pm

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