Saturday 21 April 2018

Spieth in charge at Augusta

Jordan Spieth leads by three shots following the first round at Augusta (AP)
Jordan Spieth leads by three shots following the first round at Augusta (AP)
Jordan Spieth held the first-round lead at Augusta

World number four Jordan Spieth threatened to create history before settling for a brilliant opening 64 to claim the lead after the first round of the 79th Masters on Thursday.

Spieth was eight under par after 14 holes at Augusta National and in sight of equalling the course record of 63 or even shooting the first round of 62 or better in men's major championship history.

A bogey on the par-five 15th effectively put paid to that but the 21-year-old carded his ninth birdie of the day on the 18th to finish eight under par, three shots ahead of Australian Jason Day, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and Charley Hoffman, with Sergio Garcia and Russell Henley on four under.

Rory McIlroy kept his dreams of completing the career grand slam on track with an opening 71, with Tiger Woods recording a 73 in just his third start of the year after recording a career-worst 82 in the first and withdrawing from the second after 11 holes.

"T o shoot 64 at Augusta, it's my first round under 70 although I played well last year, I am excited about that," said Spieth, who led by two shots after seven holes of the final round last year and would have been the youngest champion - and first rookie winner since 1979 - if he had held on to win.

"When I was there on 15 I knew if I could birdie there and get one more on the way in I would get to 10 under. I've never shot 10 under in a professional round and obviously here that would be special.

"Unfortunately I took the wrong club and made bogey but eight under round here is nothing to complain about. I didn't know where I was on 13 and 14 but then saw the scoreboard and maybe tried to push it a bit."

Spieth has finished first, second and second in his last three tournaments, a stark contrast to Els who has not recorded a top-10 finish all season.

" Haven't been in here for a while," Els joked as he started his post-round press conference.

For five years running Els was not outside the top six at Augusta, finishing second to Vijay Singh in 2000 and Phil Mickelson in 2004, when he carded a closing 67 to lose by a single shot.

The 45-year-old has not finished in the top-10 since and admitted there was a certain hangover from the narrow miss in 2004.

"Definitely. I was trying to wipe it under the carpet that I wanted this one so badly for so many years," Els added. "You kind of get fed up with yourself. Never with Augusta, you know, but yourself with the mistakes that you make. I felt that I left shots out there in that five‑year span so a little frustration set in there."

Els made his Masters debut in 1994 - the year after Spieth was born - and played 18 in a row until 2012, when he failed to qualify and said he would not accept a special invitation if it was offered. A few months later he won his second Open title aged 42 at Royal Lytham.

"It was probably actually good to watch it on television again like I did when I was a kid and kind of learn a bit more. I really didn't feel any bitterness towards the tournament or anybody. I was where I was. I was outside the top 50."

Rose, who was fifth here in 2007 and has led at some point in every round, carded six birdies and one bogey, while Hoffman had been one under par with four holes to play, but holed from 10 feet for an eagle on the 15th and birdied the 16th and 18th.

Asked what he had learned from his previous good starts here, Rose said: "(Not to) get ahead of yourself. One thing I've learned on this golf course is that if you do make a bogey or two, when you start to chase around here to make up for it, it's not always the best decision.

"I've definitely learned the hard way a couple of times, which was obviously a good experience."

McIlroy is looking to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods in winning all four major titles by claiming a first green jacket on Sunday.

And the world number one was satisfied by an opening 71 for the third time in four years after recovering from one over par with seven holes to play.

"I just kept telling myself to be patient out there," McIlroy said. " It was a round that could have got away from me. I just stayed patient, realising it's a 72-hole tournament and not having to press too much. It's good to get into red numbers.

"I obviously know what I can achieve this week but I am not letting myself think about it too much."

Press Association

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