Jordan Spieth holds a two-shot lead after round 1 of The Masters following an opening 66 at Augusta National
Having now led the tournament for 9 out of his 17 rounds at Augusta National, the 2015 Champion is a name that in just his fifth tournament appearance has fast become a regular fixture at the top of The Masters leaderboard. And it's a love affair that seems set to continue.
The 24-year-old, who won The Open Championship last year, got off to a fast start with back-to-back birdies on the 2nd and 3rd holes, but he would give those shots back at the 5th and 7th holes before he really started to gain momentum.
A fortiuitous kick forward on to the 8th green set up an eagle for Spieth to reach the turn in 2-under, and from there a late birdie run moved the American out in front. Spieth made five gains in a row from 13-17 to give himself a three shot advantage over nearest challengers Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar, particularly impressing with his putting on Augusta's greens - a surprise given the critique he's recently suffered around that part of his game.
On Thursday at Augusta however, an off-day with the driver saw his short game be the key to his success - exemplified by a dropped shot on 18 which started with a wildly miscued tee shot that left him needing to chip it back to the start of the fairway.
Staring a double bogey in the face after his approach shot sailed left in to the crowd, Spieth managed to get up and down to limit the damage and ensure a two shot lead over Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar heading in to Friday's round. After his round, he said he felt that save on 18 was one of his most important shots of the day.
"If I look back on my highlights for the day, I'd say I had three of them. Two of them were bogeys and one was an eagle. My bogey save that I made on No. 7 was a fantastic putt that kept, you know ‑‑ I saw a putt go in. It was a very difficult putt, and I could have dropped to over par, and it led to, you know, stepping on 8 tee feeling like, okay, regrouped, let's grab three coming in.
"I hit two beautiful shots and made a three there, and then 18 was ‑‑ unfortunately, I've had to do some interesting things on 18 in my career here. It's actually one of the more comfortable tee shots for me. I just wasn't very on with the driver today, and I was playing a fade and just kind of got it there early. But it was a beautiful chip shot. Probably couldn't have gotten closer with a whole bucket of balls."
It's the third time in the last four years Spieth has been the 18-hole leader, with the previous two times producing a win (in 2015) and a T2 (in 2016). But while Spieth acknolwedges it was a good start, he isn't getting ahead of himself.
"This tournament often feels like there's six rounds with how the weekend grind is and ‑‑ well, really any major. I feel like I'm kind of one round down out of six, so I'm not getting ahead of myself. It's just it was a really good start."
Henrik Stenson, who turned 42 on Thursday, put on a display of his own to finish in a group that includes Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed tied for fourth at 3 under. Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler are tied for 11th at 2 under.
Tiger Woods is in a tie for 29th at 1 over, while defending champion Sergio Garcia is tied for 85th after a 9-over 81 (greatly aided by a shocking 13 at the par-5 15th).
Sergio's horror 13 on the 15th hole
Defending Champion Sergio Garcia made history twice on Thursday, but not for the reasons he'd have liked to.
The Spaniard saw five shots find the same water hazard as he attempted to find the Par-5 15th green, ending up with a 13 to equal the highest score on an individual hole at Augusta during The Masters.
Having ended up in the water after failing to reach the green in two, Sergio hit four near identical wedge shots that all landed pin high before spinning back towards the front of the green and in to the drink. He eventually got his ball to stick on the dancefloor and made the putt for 13, but the damage was too great to recover from.
As a direct consequence, Sergio moved from +2 to +10 for the tournament, and despite a bounce back birdie on the 16th, he carded a deflating 9-over 81, the highest ever first round score of a returning Masters champion.
Afterwards, Garcia said of the 13: "It's the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that."
Tiger Woods Shoots 73 on first Masters outing since 2015
There was a lot of expectation surrounding Woods' return to Augusta given the scale of the success he has produced in just a few tournaments back, but it turned out to be more of a grind as Tiger finished Round 1 seven shots adrift of Spieth in a tie for 29th place.
A birdie on the third got him in to the red, but those were rapidly cancelled out with back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes and further mistakes around Amen Corner that called for his greatest scrambling skills to drop just two shots.
However, with birdies on the 14th and 16th holes Woods was able to claw back a couple of holes over the leaders and finish with a one-over 73, but he was left to rue missed chances on the Par 5s - failing to take advantage of opportunities and going round them in level par. He did admit that he still doesn't feel like he's out of the hunt just yet, and seemed proud he was able to get himself back in with a chance in the year's first major.
"I played well. I made a few mistakes. I didn't take care of the par 5s," Woods said.
“I got myself back in this tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away. And I fought hard to get it back in there, and I’m back in this championship. There’s a lot of holes to be played.”
"A 73 is fine. 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. By the end of the week there will be a bunch of guys with a chance to win this tournament."
Tony Finau overcomes dislocated ankle to be T2 after Round 1
The biggest surprise of the day came in the form of a brilliant round from Tony Finau, who until Thursday morning remained a doubt as to whether he would even be able play.
Finau had been celebrating a hole in one at the Mastesr Par 3 contest by running, but ended up dislocating (and then popping back in) his ankle – needing an xray and MRI to confirm he was able to play.
The ankle didn’t seem to bother him whatsoever during round 1, posting six birdies and two blemishes for a 68 on his Augusta debut to finish two shots behind Spieth - and he did all while restraining from putting the same amount of pressure he would usually put on his ankle!
“My story’s quite crazy,” said Finau, who has watched the video of his freak injury, and even was able to crack a laugh. “But I feel like my back’s been up against the wall my whole life, so something like this is just another part of the story, I guess.
“… My foot was out of place 24 hours ago, and I sit here in second place at the Masters after Round 1. It’s nothing short of a miracle for me.”
Watch the video below of his ankle dislocation on Wednesday, but beware- it is quite gruesome!