Five straight birdies propel Jordan Spieth to first-round lead at Masters

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Jordan Spieth took control at the Masters with a stunning first round.

Reigning British Open champion Jordan Spieth will draw upon memories of his epic 2015 Masters victory and his nightmare 2016 back-nine Sunday collapse in trying to win another green jacket.

The 24-year-old American birdied five consecutive holes starting on the par-5 13th in firing a six-under par 66 and seizing a two-stroke lead after Thursday’s opening round of the Masters.

Fourth-ranked Spieth says his best and worst memories at Augusta National will inspire him over the final 54 holes.

“I’ll always have demons out here, but I’ll always have a tremendous amount of confidence,” Spieth said.

“Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn’t. And there can be positives and negatives to both the demons and the confidence.

“So it’s just about playing the golf course for what you get, recognizing what the tendencies are this course brings and what my own tendencies are when under the gun.”

Spieth did match the Masters tournament record of 18-under 270 set by Tiger Woods in 1997 to win three years ago.

But two years ago he squandered a five-shot lead on the final nine holes – a quadruple-bogey at the par-3 12th helping England’s Danny Willett win the green jacket, Spieth having to put in on him.

Spieth added the Claret Jug last year for his third major crown, a haul that also includes the 2015 US Open, and said he felt the Sunday tension on Thursday but responded with a run of five straight birdies on the back nine before a closing bogey.

“Today I felt the Sunday-type pressure of leading the Masters on the middle of that back nine, and adjusted extremely well,” Spieth said.

Spieth, who eagled the par-5 eighth after bogeys at the fifth and seventh holes left him on level par, says being in front helps make Augusta National play easier, all 2016 evidence aside.

“If you get off to a good start, you’re in control of your own fate, versus needing a little bit of help,” Spieth said.

“This course is a lot easier to play if you feel like you can just hit the center of the greens and wait for your chances. You want to take that approach starting out, but if you start well, it’s easier to stick to that game plan.”

Spieth warns that the course will send everybody’s scores skyrocketing on the weekend and players have to prepare for that mentally.

“On the weekend, it backs you up. It backs everybody up,” he said. “And you’ve got to be prepared for that.

“So I imagine there will be plenty of times, if not from early on tomorrow, that I don’t lead this tournament anymore. Just things happen in this sport. I’m going to try and control what I can control and that’s about it.”

Spieth credited iron shots as much as putts to his crucial back-nine birdie binge.

“It’s nice that I was able to shoot a score like this,” he said. “I felt like I putted well, but I didn’t putt amazingly well. I just hit some really solid iron shots on that back nine to go with just some solid, inside of 10-12 feet, putting.”

While most players would see the 72-hole showdown as one-quarter done, Spieth says he looks at the Masters as a six-round fight.

“This tournament often feels like there’s six rounds with how the weekend grind is,” Spieth said. “Really any major. I feel like I’m kind of one round down out of six, so I’m not getting ahead of myself. It’s just it was a really good start.”

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Tiger Woods is one-over after 'awesome' return to Augusta National

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Tiger Woods is still in contention at the Masters.

Tiger Woods returned to the acid test of Augusta National on Thursday with a one-over par 73 in the first round of the Masters, declaring the experience “awesome”.

The 42-year-old, who calls himself a walking miracle less than 12 months after spinal fusion surgery, produced a pair of top-five finishes on the PGA Tour to fuel expectations that he could seize a fifth green jacket — and a 15th major title — this week.

But Woods endured his share of frustrations in his first Masters appearance since 2015 — an absence of a total of 1,089 days.

“This course will test you,” Woods said. “I haven’t played shots like this for a while.”

The 14-time major winner thrilled an enthusiastic gallery with a 10-foot birdie at the third.

But he followed with back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth as he made the turn one-over.

There was more trouble lurking around Amen Corner, where Woods was right off the tee at 11 and his recovery effort squirted right as well en route to another bogey.

A dip in Rae’s Creek at 12 cost him a shot, but he pulled strokes back at 14 and 16 and produced two crisp tee shots at 17 and 18 as he capped his round with a pair of pars.

Woods, who carded a first-round 74 in 2005 on the way to his most recent Masters title, was five off the pace set by
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and American Charlie Hoffman when he walked off the course.

Former champion Zach Johnson, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Australian Marc Leishman were the leaders in the clubhouse on two-under 70.

Leishman, who played alongside Woods, thrived in the spotlight, moving to four-under thorugh 13 holes before finding the water at the par-five 15th on the way to a double bogey.

“We had a good day out there,” Leishman said. “It’s nice playing in front of big crowds, on a stage like this, on a day like today.

“I looked at it as a positive and preparation for later in the week,” he said of playing with Woods. “Hopefully we’re both there on Sunday afternoon.”

While Tiger has drawn the lion’s share of attention this week, the field is packed with an array of in-form players.
An eagle at the par-five eighth took 2015 winner Jordan Spieth to two-under at the turn.

Five-time major-winner Phil Mickelson, his sights set on a fourth green jacket at the age of 47, was at even par through nine holes.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, seeking to complete a career Grand Slam with a first Masters title, was one-under through eight.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, however, endured a nightmare start in his bid to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to successfully defend the Masters crown.

Garcia matched the most strokes needed on any hole in Masters history with his 13 at the par-five 15th — where he hit five consecutive balls in the water.

Tommy Nakajima at the par-five 13th in 1978 and Tom Weiskopf in 1980 on the par-three 12th have also seen 13s on their Masters scorecards.

Garcia signed for a nine-over par 81 tied with amateur Matt Parziale, the Massachusetts firefighter who gained a Masters berth with a win in the Mid-Amateur championship.

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Women to compete at Augusta for first time as National Women's Amateur Championship announced

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Kari Hodgdon, wife of Patton Kizzire, took part in the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2018 Masters.

Women will compete at Augusta National for the first time from 2019 after Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced the creation of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship.

The 54-hole strokeplay tournament will see 72 of the best amateur players in the world compete over two rounds at Champions Retreat golf Club in Augusta, with the leading 30 players then contesting the final round at Augusta National on the Saturday before the Masters.

Asked if an event for professional players had been considered, Ridley told a pre-tournament press conference: “The focus on amateur golf is consistent with our history and our co-founder Bobby Jones and we feel that’s the way we can make the greatest impact in growing the game.

“We thought that’s the best way to go, but over time we think it will also be of great benefit to the professional game as well.”

The announcement was warmly welcomed, with six-times Masters champion Jack Nicklaus writing on Twitter: “Fantastic! This is a great thing for the game of golf!”

The tournament is scheduled to take place in the same week as the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the year, but Ridley added: “We have no intentions of competing or taking away from the ANA Inspiration.

“We think that to have one week where the future greats of the game and the current greats of the women’s game are all competing on a big stage is very exciting.

“I’ve talked to Mike Whan (LPGA commissioner) and he understands our motivations for doing this and that from a big picture, this is a win for women’s golf. He also understands that in time it’s going to be a win for the LPGA.”

The field for the tournament will be determined by the winners of various worldwide events – including the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship and Girls’ British Open Amateur – and the Women’s World Amateur golf Ranking.

The winner will not receive a green jacket, like Masters champions, but Ridley added: “We plan to have a very distinctive trophy that will become iconic as well – we just don’t know what it is yet.”

Augusta National admitted its first women members – former American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore – in 2012.

Martha Burk, Chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, talks with the media during Masters week in 2003

Martha Burk, Chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations,  during the 2003 Masters

That came a decade after activist Martha Burk stepped up pressure on the club to admit women, to which then chairman Hootie Johnson responded that they would not be forced to change its policies “at the point of a bayonet”.

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