How Jordan Spieth Took Control at the Masters

[Round 2: Follow our live Masters coverage.]

The first round of the 2018 Masters began as a celebration of the long-awaited return of Tiger Woods. But it ended with another familiar name, Jordan Spieth, reminding golf fans that he never left.

Spieth showed once again that Augusta National golf course perfectly suits his under-control swing and crisp putting, as he birdied the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th holes in a row to grab a two-stroke advantage at 6-under par over Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar on Thursday.

Several others, including Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, and Charley Hoffman, are tied for third at three-under par. Phil Mickelson (-2) and Rickey Fowler (-2) are also in contention.

Woods (+1) remains seven strokes back, but he might take it after an up-and-down opening round in his first appearance at the Masters since 2015. Woods made three birdies, but none on the par-5s, where he entered the tournament at 144-under par for his career.

At the par-3 12th hole, Woods was two-over par when his tee shot fell short and into the water. After a drop, he pitched it short of the hole, leaving a 15-foot putt to save bogey. But he made the putt, and it seemed to galvanize him.

He birdied two of the last six holes — though, oddly, went even on the two par-5s — and seemed to rediscover his swing with three good drives to end the round.

After finishing 17th in his last appearance at the Masters, Woods missed the cut in the next three majors he played in 2015, then did not play in any major tournaments in 2016 or 2017.

The winner of last year’s green jacket, Sergio Garcia, quickly ended any thoughts of a repeat performance. On the par-5 15th, Garcia continually attempted to spin the ball toward a front hole location, and five shots wound up falling into the water. Garcia finished with a 13 on the hole, tied for the most in Masters history.

Spieth, on the other hand, was dialed in. After birdieing two of his first three holes, he bogeyed Nos. 5 and 7 to drop back to even. But an eagle on No. 8 got him going. And at Amen Corner, where he lost the Masters in 2016, he started a remarkable run. It was the first time he birdied five holes in a row at Augusta.

He zipped past Tony Finau, who, playing in first Masters, suffered a high-ankle sprain on Wednesday while celebrating a hole-in-one at the Par-3 Tournament. Finau was cleared to play Thursday, and though he was walking somewhat gingerly, his game somehow did not show any ill effects. He had the outright lead for a bit before Spieth overran him.

Conditions were perfect by the afternoon, which played into Spieth’s favor, as one of the last groups to finish. And for the ninth time in just 17 career rounds at Augusta, he holds the lead.

Here’s how the first round of the Masters played out:

Well, Jordan Spieth’s birdie streak ended. He made somewhat of a mess of things on the 18th (he’s not the first), hitting a tee shot into the woods, then wedge out, then a 3-wood into the gallery. But he still always has the capacity for something brilliant, and he delivered again, deftly sticking his wedge within three feet to tap in for bogey. So Spieth is in with a 66, the ninth time he has led or shared a lead in 17 career rounds at Augusta.

Five. Five birdies in a row for Jordan Spieth. The 2015 Masters winner has never done that before at Augusta. But even when things aren’t looking so great — like his tee shot on 17, which hit some tree limbs — the ball still bounced into favorable position in the fairway and he took advantage. Tremendous performance. Now 7-under par.

Make it four straight birdies for Jordan Spieth. He’s so confident with his swing that he didn’t even need to look where his tee shot on the 172-yard par-3 16th wound up. He knew it was good when he hit it and just walked straight over to his caddie, Michael Greller, to grab his putter. He would like what he saw: a tap-in to take a two-stroke lead. The cup must look the size of Grand Canyon right now for Spieth.

Conditions at Augusta National have been almost idyllic, and Jordan Spieth is taking advantage. After an errant tee shot left on the par-5 15th, he had to lay up in front of the water. But he stuck his 90-yard approach within just a few feet and made the putt to grab sole possession of the lead at five-under par. Spieth has now birdied three in a row. The eagle on eight really jump-started his round after two bogeys.

After a beautiful drive on the last hole, Tony Finau made one of his only mistakes on the day, missing left with his approach and then leaving himself with a long putt. But if we’ve learned anything today, it’s that the 28-year-old Tongan-American is pretty resilient. He made the delicate 13-foot putt to record a 68, currently tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth. The 18th had been a great equalizer on Thursday. Four players came to the 18th with at least a share of the lead, and all four had bogeyed before Finau.

Rory McIlroy is plodding along steadily at 1-under. His tee shot on the par-3 12th sailed right over the pin and off the green, but he was able to putt it back on to save par. He’s been great off the tee but a three-putt on No. 7 is his only blemish on the round as he heads to the 13th hole.

He suffered a high-ankle sprain, yesterday, while celebrating a hole-in-one in the par-3 tournament. But that hasn’t slowed down Tony Finau in his first Masters appearance. He’s been walking gingerly but is somehow now tied for the lead at four-under through 12.

Trouble on the 18th hole cost Henrik Stenson a stroke as he finishes at three-under par, one stroke behind Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin for the lead. Stenson has never finished in the top 10 at the Masters, so he changed his strategy by dropping his trusty 3-wood in favor of his driver on most holes. He hit 10 of 14 fairways, so that wasn’t bad. But on 18, he hit a poor chip that left him with a long putt that he missed to bogey.

After birdieing two of the first three holes, Jordan Spieth bogeyed Nos. 5 and 7 to drop back to even par. But he just eagled the par-5 8th for a big rebound as he starts to make the turn.

The defending champion has made his mark at the Masters again. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong kind of mark.

Sergio Garcia hit five straight balls into the water on the par-5 15th hole and tied a tournament record with a 13 on the hole. That’s an octuple bogey for those scoring at home. He’s now 9-over par.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” García said after finishing with an 81. “It’s one of those things. I feel like it’s the first time in my career where I made a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that.”

That’s a wrap for Tiger Woods. He ended on another good drive on the 18th. Then from 171 yards was yelling for it to bite but it didn’t listen and went just a bit long. He missed the putt coming back and finished with a par to close at one-over. Currently five strokes off the lead, but it could have gone much, much worse after a difficult stroll through Amen Corner. He kept his composure, rediscovered his swing, and finished two-under on the final six holes.

“Seventy three is fine,” Woods told reporters after the round. “By the end of the week there will be a bunch of guys with a chance to win this tournament.”

Bill Pennington: Two takeaways from Woods’s round: Pretty good job of keeping it together today considering he didn’t make a birdie on a par 5; no one can mount a charge at the Masters without making birdies on the par 5s.

Woods absolutely bombed a perfect drive down the middle (finally) on 17, leaving him with a wedge in. Looked like a good swing with the approach, which went a little long, but still left him with a relatively straightforward downhill birdie opportunity. Unfortunately he left his putt out to the right. But still, he looked much more confident and in control with his swing, and that’s a nice rebound from just a few holes earlier.

Finally, a smile from Tiger. A great tee shot on the par-3 16th hit the slope and rolled back to give him an uphill look for birdie from about 20 feet. And he gave it a confident roll and buried it. Big bounceback for Woods, who’s back to 1-over with two holes to play.

A critical hole for Woods, the par-5 15th, and he lost it way right off the tee with driver again. He was forced to lob it up over some pine trees to get back toward the fairway. He made a strong recovery to give himself a look for birdie from around 25 feet, but he left it short and had to tap in for par. He’s been grinding, that’s for sure.

But a birdie on 15 would have brought him back to 1-over, while Leishman, the co-leader, finished with a double bogey on the hole. Woods just has not taken advantage of the back-nine par-5s, though, mostly because he is nowhere near as sharp off the tee as he looked earlier in the week.

It’s still early, but back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 have to make Jordan Spieth feel good about this weekend at Augusta. Spieth won the Masters in 2015 and tied Lee Westwood for second place in 2016.

Woods rebounds with a great birdie on 14. He finally looked sharp with a 3-wood off the tee and then knocked his second shot within a couple of yards. Then he made the putt to move back to 2-over. He needed that.

The wheels are starting to come off for Tiger. A 3-wood off the tee at 13 also hung out too far to the right and left Woods among some trees on the pinestraw. He then whacked into some patrons on the right side of the fairway. After a decent pitch onto the green, he missed the 12-foot comebacker for birdie. He’s now even-par on the par-5s, which is very un-Tiger-like.

Woods is not enjoying himself at the Amen Corner. His tee shot on the par-3 155-yard 12th went short and trickled into the water. Then he took a while to decide where to drop, looking pretty uncertain. He’s never played No. 12 well in his career, but he did manage to save a bogey with a clutch putt. Now at 3-over heading to No. 13.

Bill Pennington: Tiger’s tee shot on the devilish par-3 12th hole looked fat, with a good chunk of turf exploding beneath and behind the ball. That ill-timed contact likely led to the shot being short — it robbed his shot of a little momentum.

No. 12 is another of Tiger’s least favorite holes. He came to the tee there today 8-over par on the hole in his career.

Sometimes a converted bogey putt is more important than any holed birdie putt. By avoiding a double bogey at No. 12, Tiger still leaves open the possibility of an even par or 1-over-par finish today. Two reachable par 5s remain on the back 9.

Trouble for Tiger Woods at Amen Corner. On No. 11, he smacks it into the trees on the right. Curiously, he urges the ball to go “way right,” hoping to get onto the next fairway instead. But no, he’s in the trees. Woods has been playing pretty quickly, but he takes his time over this puzzler, asking that some fans be moved. All he can do is punch it out, and it goes into the crowd again. He still has a way to go to the green.

Woods, now with a direct chance at the green, hits a high lofted chip to within 10 feet. He doesn’t come close on the par saver. The bogey drops him to 2-over. Leishman, who has been nailing his iron shots all day, makes another par and stays ahead of the field.

Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, dropped a stroke on No. 11 after missing his second shot right of the green and then missing a Seven-foot putt to save par. That drops him back to even for his round. He’s there with Hideki Matsuyama, considered maybe the best player yet to win a major; he has opened with 12 straight pars.

And Phil Mickelson has started off his round on a good note with a birdie on No. 1.

Another strong tee shot on the 10th hole by Woods. “No, no” from Woods on the second shot as his ball heads toward the bunker. But it luckily stays out and lands by the lip. He chips from there to a couple of feet and makes par. He remains at 1-over. Marc Leishman still leads at 3-under.

On the par-4 ninth, Woods’s drive lands in the second cut of rough but is decently positioned. He puts his second shot on the green 30 feet away. The first putt doesn’t break as much as he expected; he makes a four-foot par putt. Marc Leishman escapes from the trees to save par, and his 1-stroke lead.

The eighth is a 570-yard par 5. Woods creams his drive down the center. With 265 to the hole, he can’t quite get it on the green though, and his third shot goes well past the stick. His 20-footer for birdie takes a huge break and is close enough for a three-footer for par. Another par for Leishman; he still leads by a stroke at 3-under.

Bill Pennington: Another striped drive by Woods, long and bouncing high down the 8th fairway. If Tiger was putting as well as he’s been hitting his driver, he’d be one or two strokes off the lead right now. But the putts haven’t been horrible, just not perfect. In other words, it’s just golf. At the Masters.

At the seventh, Woods has no problem with his 3-wood shot. His approach from 150 yards is on the green but a bit farther than he would have liked, leaving him with a good length putt for birdie. Going downhill again, he just misses it and remains at 1-over. Marc Leishman, playing in Woods’s group, makes a birdie to go to 3-under, still the solo leader, but now by two strokes.

The sixth is another par-3, with the flag 195 yards away in the back corner of the big Augusta green. Tiger Woods’s shot is a beauty, less than 10 feet for the birdie. The putt just inches left though, and another opportunity is missed. Marc Leishman keeps churning out pars and still leads at 2-under.

Bill Pennington: Really a shame for Tiger. His tee shot at No. 6 will be one of the day’s best from anyone in the field. His missed birdie putt wasn’t stroked left of the hole as much as it broke left of the hole in the final 16 inches.

At the par-4 fifth, Tiger Woods shouts “down, down” after launching his drive. That tends to be a bad sign, and sure enough, despite the ample landing area, he’s in a fairway bunker. He’s out safely and just sneaks onto the green, but has a long way to go to the hole. He goes past the hole with the putt and was tested by an 8-foot comebacker. Just missed, and Woods has back-to-back bogeys to move to one over par. No change at the top; Leishman still leads at 2-under.

Despite his troubles and controversies, golf fans seem willing — even eager — to embrace Tiger Woods’s comeback. Will corporate America feel the same? Read this article from Zach Schonbrun.

The first par 3 of the day is the tricky fourth. Woods, from 240 yards, puts it in the bunker in front of the green. He extricates himself but has a 15-footer for par. It just misses, and Woods bogeys to drop back to even par. His playing partner Marc Leishman is now the solo leader at 2-under.

Bill Pennington: That’s a botched bunker shot for Tiger at No. 4 and it cost him par. But Tiger hates the fourth hole here — he’s now played it in 16-over par in his career.

On the 350-yard par-4 third, Tiger Woods goes with a driver and easily clears the fairway bunkers for a good angle to the green. His second shot is merely a pitch, and he lands it for a downhill 12-footer. It’s in! Woods moves to 1-under, joining Justin Thomas and Mark O’Meara a stroke off leaders Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman.

Bill Pennington: I would say there is a very good chance that Tiger made that downhill birdie putt on the 3rd because he learned something from the downhill birdie putt miss on No. 2. He read the speed better on No. 3 green, having gauged it from No. 2. That let the ball find the hole.

On the par-5 second, both his playing partners find the bunker, but Woods smashes a drive deep into the fairway. His iron shot from a good position 220 yards away finds a greenside trap, and he stomps his foot in frustration. He blasts out and goes past the flag by 10 feet. The downhill birdie putt breaks dramatically and just misses. If Woods is going to win this week, he needs to go low on the par 5s. This was a good birdie opportunity squandered.

The crowd is cleared for Woods’s second shot. He makes it out of the trees and winds up just short of the green. Good shot. His long putt ends up a foot from the hole, and he saves par. Meanwhile, ageless Vijay Singh has three birdies in his first four holes and leads the tournament by three clear strokes.

Here we go! Tiger Woods is first to tee off and hits it to the left of the fairway behind the ropes and crowd. Not a good start.

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