Golf

Spieth threatens Masters record, settles for 64 and three-shot lead after first round

This is what happens when an ultracompetitive 21-year-old American golf star on the rise gets a whole year to stew on a fateful plunge into Rae’s Creek.

Jordan Spieth shot an 8-under-par 64 in the first round of the 79th Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday.

He has a three-stroke lead.

And he’s not likely letting up.

“That’s a dreamy round for me,” Spieth said.

It would have been for anybody.

It has been four years since a golfer last shot a 64 at the Masters. That was Australia’s Jason Day, who did it in the second round of the 2011 tournament on the way to a runner-up finish to Charl Schwartzel.

Spieth’s 64 was easily his career low at a major championship. And he was threatening the tournament record of 63, shared by Nick Price (1986) and Greg Norman (1996). Oddly enough, neither of those golfers went on to win the Masters.

Standing at 8-under, and in the middle of the 15th fairway on a par 5 much of the field was reaching in two shots, Spieth reached for his hybrid iron with thoughts of setting a personal milestone — and also a Masters record.

“After I played (No. 14), I said, ‘Let’s try and get one (eagle) here and maybe get to 10 under,” Spieth said. “That would be the lowest round that I’ve ever shot in a tournament round, so that’s why I wanted to do that.”

Maybe Spieth got a little greedy, because he air-mailed the green with his approach shot. He was lucky the golf ball did not trickle into the back pond. He ended up making his only bogey.

After making back-to-back pars at the 16th and 17th hole, Spieth reached the green at the uphill par-4 finishing hole. While watching his 15-foot bridie try curl right into the back of the cup, he yelled, “C’mon, baby, c’mon!”

Certainly Spieth benefitted from a few breaks. His escape shot from the right-side trees at the seventh hole stayed on the back plateau, leading to a birdie.

In the same area at the 14th hole, he cut an iron shot around the trees. Once his ball landed on the green, it took three hopes, hit the flagstick and stopped to tap-in birdie distance.

“When I hit it, I just wanted to carry the ridge. When it did, I kind of looked down and just heard the crazy roar — and the sigh at the end of the roar,” Spieth said. “That was a nice break.”

Spieth came so close to winning the Masters in his debut appearance last year but fell out of contention when his 12th-hole tee shot landed in Rae’s Creek. Bubba Watson went on to win the tournament.

“Obviously everyone wants to win this golf tournament,” Spieth said. “It leaves your name in history, and (with) a legacy.”

Four men — four-time major champion Ernie Else, 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Day and Charley Hoffman — are tied for second at 67.

In fact, the 45-year-old Els turned back the clock a bit Thursday. He produced his best Masters score in 12 years — since a second-round 66 at the 2003 tournament — and it was the first time he has broken 70 in the first round in 21 tournament appearances.

His highlight was his 6-iron approach from 212 yards out at No. 15, leading to a 6-foot eagle putt at the par 5.

“This is wonderful, to get something under par — under 70 — hitting it solidly,” Els said. “But there’s plenty of golf to be played. You can’t even be dreaming about Sunday yet.”

Tiger Woods returned after a two-month layoff. He shot a 1-over 73 and is tied for 41st.

He had his bad moments, like his badly sliced 3-wood approach shot at the ninth hole, which led to a bogey. And he dumped his tee shot at No. 12 into Rae’s Creek.

But Woods birdied the 13th hole, and the four-time Masters champion finished with five consecutive pars.

“You know, I’m still in it,” Woods said. “I’m only nine (shots) back. And we have a long way to go.”

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