Jordan Spieth clutched an iron in his arms and crouched to his knees, talking into the distance on the 14th hole at Augusta National. He stood 20 yards behind a pine tree, more than 180 yards from the flag, and his ball was in flight, cutting around a branch as it flew toward the green on the 440-yard par-4 called Chinese Fir.
“Be enough!” Spieth yelled. “Just go … go!”
The shot hit the front-center of the green, bounced once, then smacked into the flagstick, where it stopped just a few feet from the hole. From back in the rough, Spieth heard a loud roar, then a sigh. With one brilliant shot and one nice bounce, he had a tap-in putt for his sixth birdie in seven holes.
“I wasn’t sure what happened,” Spieth would say.
Never miss a local story.
It was that kind of day for Spieth, a mix nice bounces and dazzling play. One year after a near miss at the Masters, the prodigious Spieth is back where he wants to be: sitting atop the leaderboard at 8-under after an opening-round 64 on Thursday.
“It’s one of the better rounds I’ve ever played,” Spieth said.
Spieth’s sizzling opening round was the biggest story from Thursday at the Masters. On a day where Tiger Woods scuffled at 1-over and Rory McIlroy treaded water at 1-under, Spieth put Augusta National on notice. At 21 years old, Spieth is just beginning to be a major player in golf’s hierarchy.
Spieth’s 64 was 1 stroke off the course record at Augusta National, shared by Nick Price (1986) and Greg Norman (1996). It was also 1 stroke off the record for lowest round ever in a major. In the moments after the round, Spieth showed his age. He knew nothing of the records — at Augusta or elsewhere.
“I wasn’t aware what the course record was here, let alone that it actually would have been the lowest round in major championship history,” Spieth said. “... But I’m certainly okay with the day.”
So now Spieth will carry a 3-stroke lead into Friday, separating himself from a pack of players at 5-under that included Justin Rose, Jason Day and 45-year-old Ernie Els.
“It’s round one,” Spieth said. “It’s just a lot of good breaks and good putting and chipping and short-game day for me.”
For Spieth, it was also a welcome sight. One year ago, at age 20, he became the youngest 54-hole leader in the history of the Masters, entering Sunday tied with Bubba Watson at 5-under par. For a brief moment on Sunday, as the duel with Watson began, it seemed that Spieth might be closing in on Masters history.
But the tournament belonged to Watson, who finished at 8-under and captured his second green jacket. It was a lesson learned for Spieth, who was still more than three months shy of his 21 birthday. For three days, he played steady and mistake-free golf. He battled. He made putts. He navigated Augusta’s tricky greens and played with the poise of a veteran. On the final day, with the green jacket at stake, he lost his composure.
“I had an opportunity to make a dream come true, and I had it in my hands,” Spieth reflected earlier this week. “And then I was just a little anxious.”
On Thursday, Spieth came back to Augusta and showcased what he had learned. He caught some breaks, of course, and he was quick to point that out. But he still finished with nine birdies — including a 14-foot putt on the 18th hole — and just one bogey. By the back nine, playing partner Billy Horschel turned toward Spieth.
“Amen Corner has been changed to Jordan’s Corner,” Horschel said.
It was nearly history. But it was also just a start. So in the moments after his round, Spieth tried to stay composed.
“Really cool,” he said. “Yeah, I’d take three more of them.”