AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – Tiger Woods attracted most of the attention. Jordan Spieth caused the most concern.
Opening day at the Masters had a wide-open feel until Spieth hit his stride Thursday afternoon. He saved three straight pars with that superb short game. He ran off three straight birdies to take the lead. And then he fired an 8-iron at the pin on the par-3 16th, letting the club twirl through his hands as he walked away, knowing only that it was another good one. It plopped down 5 feet away.
“You don’t know where it’s going to end up,” he said, “but you know it’s going to be in a good position.”
Spieth took only 10 putts on the back nine. He made five straight birdies, a career best for him in the majors. Even a bogey on the final hole felt like a par the way he navigated out of the trees and limited the damage with a pitch that stopped inches from going in.
That gave him a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar.
It was the eighth time in his last 13 rounds at the Masters that Spieth ended a round with the lead. Given his short history at Augusta National — a victory, two runner-up finishes and a tie for 11th — his name atop the leaderboard gets attention.
Ditto for Woods, except that he has some catching up to do.
Woods failed to birdie any of the par 5s. He hit a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek. And only a pair of birdies over the last five holes enabled him to scratch out a 73 and at least stay in range, seven shots behind.
“Seventy-three is fine,” Woods said. “By the end of the week, this will be a pretty packed leaderboard the way the golf course is set up. They have it right where they want it. It’s really hard to run away from it, but it’s also really easy to lose it out there.”
Spieth could have built a bigger margin except for his wild tee shot to the left and into the trees on No. 18.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Kuchar, who shot 31 on the back nine. “With the round he’s posted, the quality of golfer he is, he’s on some similar form. You can just kind of see good things happening.”
Sergio Garcia had a disastrous episode on the par-5 15th, carding a 13. He wound up with an 81, the highest score in the opening round by a defending Masters champion.
Satoshi Kodaira sits five strokes off the pace, while compatriot Hideki Matsuyama struggled to a 73.
In his Masters debut, Kodaira had three birdies and two bogeys in his 71, good enough to put him in a tie for 16th at 1-under.
“It took a long time to get here,” Kodaira said. “I wasn’t really nervous on the first tee, I just thought ‘I’m here at last.’ “
In his seventh Masters appearance, Matsuyama turned for home at even before a double-bogey on 14 put him on the back foot. Like his countryman, though, an 18th hole birdie gave him some momentum going into Friday’s round.