AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – Of all the game’s marquee players, Jordan Spieth was surrounded by the most question marks in the weeks leading up to this year’s Masters.
But on Thursday, Spieth answered the question of whether he would be a factor at Augusta National this year affirmatively … and convincingly.
Spurred by five consecutive back-nine birdies, the 2015 Masters champion shot an afternoon 66 and led the 2018 edition by two strokes after the opening round.
Entering last week’s Houston Open, Spieth had posted just two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season and had acknowledged struggling with his putter. He ranks 185th on Tour in strokes gained putting, but a T3 finish in Houston gave him some much-needed momentum heading into the Masters.
“I’ve kind of found a little trigger in the stroke that has served as beneficial that I tried out last week,” Spieth said. “I really think what I did on the weekend (in Houston) was hugely beneficial to being able to start strong here.”
On Thursday morning, Spieth was rolling the rock on Augusta National’s putting green nearly three hours before his 1:49 p.m. tee time, under the watchful eye of coach Cameron McCormick and caddie Michael Greller.
He made two early birdies – an up-and-down 4 at No. 2 and a 12-footer at the par-4 third – but gave those strokes back with bogeys at Nos. 5 and 7. Spieth recouped the losses with a 15-foot eagle at the par-5 eighth and made the turn in 34.
After pars at Nos. 10-12, Spieth launched his run to the top with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 13th. He followed with a 10-foot birdie at 14; a 3-foot birdie after a deft wedge to the par-5 15th; a 3-footer at the par-3 16th; and a 6-footer at 17.
Although Spieth bogeyed 18 after a poor drive into the left trees, consider this astounding stat: He has led or shared the lead after a round at Augusta National nine times in 17 career Masters rounds.
Of course, despite the green jacket he won in 2015, Spieth will forever be reminded of his 12th-hole meltdown in 2016 that torpedoed his quest for consecutive titles. But he won’t dwell on that nightmare as he seeks to add to his major haul this week.
“Whether it’s tomorrow or it’s Saturday or Sunday, I’ll always have demons out here, but I’ll always have a tremendous amount of confidence out here,” he said. “Once you win here you have an advantage over anybody who hasn’t won here. And there can be positives and negatives to both, the demons and the confidence.”