So much for Jordan Spieth coming into the defense of his wire-to-wire Masters title not quite in major championship form.
With the golf world wringing its collective hands over the so-so play of the road-weary globetrotter in six events since he won the PGA Tour’s 2016 opener at Kapalua, it took Spieth one round to assume his place at the top of the leaderboard and turn the skeptics into believers. And as he did last year, when he tied Tiger Woods’ 72-hole scoring mark of 18-under 270, Spieth, with an opening 6-under 66, had pundits turning to the record books, and players turning to the past, to put his mastery of Augusta National in historical perspective.
There’s his 29-under after nine rounds at the Masters. Woods was 21-under in his first nine career turns around Augusta.
He even goes Tiger one better, becoming the first player in Masters history to record par-or-better rounds in his first nine rounds. And, of course, there’s more.
Most rounds led/co-led in #TheMasters, last 30 years— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) April 7, 2016
Today would be Jordan Spieth's 6th. This is his 9th round.
Not to mention, though we will anyway, should Spieth prevail on Sunday night, he would be the first player since Woods (2001, 2002) to repeat as Masters champ.
A Spieth note — Since Tiger defended the Masters in 2002, there have been 13 attempts and only two top 10s (Phil in 2005, Tiger in 2006).— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) April 5, 2016
You don’t have to convince Paul Casey, who carded a 69 while playing alongside Spieth and "mad scientist" amateur, Bryson DeChambeau (even-par 72) on Thursday.
"It is like playing with a Tiger or a Phil," Casey said afterwards. "It's obvious he's a major champion, but he just exudes that sort of, whatever ‘that’ is."
If that sounds eerily similar to the mystical aura that seemed to emanate from Woods in his glory days, it’s because Spieth treats Augusta like his own personal playground. He may be three green jackets shy of the number that Woods earned, but if he keeps playing the way he did on Thursday, he won’t have to worry about giving back the one he so stingily hopes not to have to return.
"I enjoy this tournament more than anywhere else," said Spieth, who strolls around the grounds like the self-assured two-time major champion he is.
"It's a knowing, it's a confidence. It's the way he walks. It's the way he stands," said Casey. "It goes all the way through from the way he speaks and the way he shakes your hand and the way he deals with people."
Spieth grabbed the opening-round lead and held it for almost the entire day, despite gusting winds that drove other golfers to distraction.
Indeed, he put on a clinic on how to remain patient and take what the greens gave him.
"I got the most that I could possibly get out of my round today," Spieth said.
Bubba Watson (75) was hardly the only contestant who did not share Spieth’s fondness for Thursday’s start. The putting yips that have plagued Ernie Els for some time turned his opening hole into a nightmarish six-putt, quintuple-bogey 9 that was one shot better than what everyone believed for most of the day.
One to relive over your corn flakes! Ernie Els enthused hackers worldwide in taking seven putts on the first hole. pic.twitter.com/efCsQvNnSi— Golf Australia (@GolfAust) April 7, 2016
Rickie Fowler, a favorite to win his first major entering the week, suffered a complete collapse. A first-hole double-bogey was a bad omen, as the popular Fowler carded an opening-round 80.
80 for the 80th playing of The Masters haha...definitely wasn't the plan but I'll be back at it tomorrow!!— Rickie Fowler (@RickieFowler) April 7, 2016
As for Spieth, his flawless opening round was impressive — especially since his six-birdie effort was his fifth consecutive under-par round in the tournament.
But it was going bogey-free that really had Spieth fist-pumping his way around Augusta National.
Fist pumps on Thursday are normal at the Masters.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 7, 2016
Jordan Spieth is in a familiar position at Augusta. https://t.co/kzfVrObceA
"With these conditions and a western wind, it makes these holes very challenging. A lot of into-the-wind shots," he said. "The course is playing long today and I hit the ball into some tough spots … Those chips and putts were key to a no-bogey round."
If Spieth, coming off a T13 last week in Houston, felt any pressure to measure up to last year’s performance, he certainly did not show it. The world No. 2, who broke the face of his driver Wednesday night, escaped from some precarious locations off the tee and let his flat stick do the talking on Thursday.
Jordan Spieth was dialed in today.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 7, 2016
His birdie putts:
• 13 feet
• 11 feet
• 6 feet
• 6 feet
• 4 feet
• 3 feet pic.twitter.com/YOdWyNLpNv
Like on the par-4 11th, where, Spieth admitted, he hit a "dumb" shot that could have -- should have -- backfired.
After losing his drive into the pine trees on the right of the fairway, Spieth had about 210 to the green, a small gap in the trees, a 4-iron in his hand, and a caddie who did everything he could to change his player’s mind about the shot.
Over caddie Michael Greller’s ardent objection, Spieth took the shot and watched anxiously as the ball hit hard on the green and traveled toward the water. Spieth made the seven-foot par putt.
"I was laughing afterwards," he said. "That's how kind of dumb the decision was, and pulled it off."
Despite needing two more strokes than he did in last year’s first-round 64, Spieth deemed Thursday’s play superior.
"To be honest," said Spieth, "I think the round today, in my opinion, may have been better than the first round last year even though it was two strokes better."
Lots of golf left to play, especially with Danny Lee and Shane Lowry just two shots back and Rory McIlroy lurking at 2-under. But after 18 holes and playing Tiger-esque golf in the second Woods-free Masters in three years, Spieth had to like his chances of putting up back-to-back wire-to-wire wins.
"It’s my favorite tournament in the world," he said. "To be in this position is really cool."
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Watch Ernie Els seven-putt from six feet out
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