Jordan Spieth produced a back nine birdie blitz to fire a 66 and take a two-shot lead into day two of the Masters Tournament.
Despite perfect conditions, scoring was tough at Augusta National for the season’s first day of Major Championship golf, and for a long time it looked like there could be a logjam at the top of the leaderboard.
Enter Spieth, who made five birdies in a row from the 13th to accelerate clear and despite a closing bogey dropping him to six under, he led for the ninth time in 17 rounds at the storied Georgia layout.
American duo Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau – who was only playing after having a morning MRI scan on the ankle he dislocated during the par three contest on Wednesday – were then at four under, one clear of a group including Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Li Haotong and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin were also three shots off the lead, one ahead of Bernd Wiesberger, three-time winner Phil Mickelson, 2007 champion Zach Johnson, Marc Leishman and Rickie Fowler.
Four-time champion Tiger Woods was playing his first Major since 2015 after serious back problems, and he fired a 73 to sit a shot behind last year’s runner-up Justin Rose, 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel and 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood.
The day belonged to American Spieth, however, with the 2015 champion going in search of a fourth Major Championship.
“I birdied 17 and walking off the green I told (caddie) Michael, we’ve got a chance to tie our record out here,” he said. “I ended up having to make a really good bogey to post six (under).
“It’s up there with the top three rounds I’ve ever played here.
“Going out tomorrow, I told Michael I wanted to try and shoot three under a day. That’s probably unrealistic, understanding how this course brings people back on Saturday and Sunday but I’ll try and shoot three under, that’ll be my goal.”
It’s up there with the top three rounds I’ve ever played here – Jordan Spieth
Spieth birdied the second and third but dropped shots on the fifth and seventh before a favourable bounce left him 14 feet for an eagle on the eighth.
The 24 year old parred the next four but then found another level, birdieing the par five 12th after getting on the green in two and hitting an approach into nine feet to join the lead on the next.
He laid up on the 15th but spun his third to four feet to lead on his own, put his tee-shot on the par three 16th to five feet and then his approach to the 17th to similar range, before going left off the 18th tee into the trees.
Finau did brilliantly to save a par on the last to go with six birdies and two bogeys, while Kuchar recovered from bogeys on the fourth and seventh to birdie the eighth and come home in 31, making gains on three of his last four holes.
Swede Stenson holed a 27-footer for birdie on the fourth to get going and after making another gain on the seventh, picked up two shots around Amen Corner. He bogeyed the 14th but picked the shot straight back up before bogeying the last.
Li was level par after ten holes but the Chinese made three birdies in a row from the 11th before dropping a shot on the 14th. Two more birdies followed to keep him in the lead with Finau but he too dropped a shot on the last.
McIlroy turned in 35 with two birdies and a bogey and looked set to make a charge home after taking advantage of the 13th and 15th. Instead the Northern Irishman showed fantastic battling qualities to make difficult pars on the last three holes and stay in touch.
Cabrera Bello was three over after five holes but birdied six of his next ten to fly up the leaderboard, while Reed, Hadwin and Hoffman all made five birdies and two bogeys,
South African Louis Oosthuizen was in the group at one under, a shot clear of Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia fired an opening 81 after putting his ball in the water five times en route to a 13 on the 15th.