Jordan Spieth admitted he rode his luck and got away with making a mess of the ninth hole before hauling himself back into contention in an entertaining first round at The Masters.
The resurgent Spieth, who collected his first silverware for almost four years at the Texas Open on Sunday, hit back from a triple-bogey seven on the final hole of the front nine to card a one-under 71, one of only a dozen players under the card at Augusta National.
The 2015 champion had made a confident start with birdies at the second and eighth, either side of a bogey at the fourth, but he pulled his drive deep into the pines at nine and his bold, initial escape attempt through the narrowest of gaps between tree trunks did not go to plan.
Spieth’s ball cannoned off a tree just a few yards in front of him and headed left, but he was able to thread his third to within a few yards of the green and pitched to six feet, only to need three putts to get down when it appeared he would limit the damage to a bogey-five.
But he responded with a 20-foot putt for birdie at 10 before enjoying another slice of luck at the long 15th, where he chipped in for eagle from over the back of the green, although he would have found the water had his ball not hit the hole.
“The tree that it hit, if I missed that tree, I thought worst case it’s just going to hit some branches and kind of just go through,” said Spieth as he explained his thought process at the ninth.
“I wasn’t going to gain a whole lot versus punching straight out. I thought I’d gain 60 or 70 yards and have a wedge in, and that’s why I made that decision.
“But it’s so tough when you’re standing up looking into a tree as a right-hander and trying to miss it on the right side. Live and learn, I think. It’s tough to swallow because, knowing the golf course is very difficult and I was one under par, punch it to the fairway, you make a bogey, you’re at even par at the turn, that’s a pretty good score.
“But unfortunately, I’m still in that 18-under mode from last week and trying to capitalise on and gain every stroke I can. Luckily, I’ve kind of got away with that and I’m still in the tournament.
“I just reset a goal. I had to try to hit three greens in regulation on 10, 11, 12, and from there we have got two par-fives. So the plan was to shoot two under on the back. I have a pretty short memory out here, especially in first rounds, so it’s easier to settle in.”
Spieth got back into red numbers with his chip-in for a three at the 15th, a shot he described as “probably the luckiest break I’ve ever got out here, if not anywhere!”
“The idea is to hit it online, but that was very, very lucky,” he said. “That was at least a three-shot break. If it goes in the water, I’m dropping, and I’ve got to get up-and-down for it to be a three-shot break. If I don’t get it up-and-down, it’s a seven or worse. As many shots as I hit that were a yard off earlier in the round, it was more than made up for there.”
Spieth was also somewhat surprised to find himself six shots adrift of Justin Rose, who went from two over to seven under in a remarkable 10-hole stretch that made a mockery of how tough the course was playing throughout day one.
“I’m glad the course is firm if you’re six back after one round,” Spieth added. “So I’m not really going to be focused, I don’t think, on Rosey. That’s a heck of a round. And I just assume that this golf course is going to be just as challenging going forward and pick your spots.”
Spieth ended the day tied for eighth place with Shane Lowry, who revelled in the firm and fast conditions while describing playing-partner Rose’s 65 as “a joy to watch”.
“I felt like I played good, I had a couple of bad errors on 10 and 15 that were a bit silly, but I was very kind of proud of myself the way I hung on,” said the Open champion.
“I’ve never seen the course like that, which was great. I loved it. I’ve always wanted to play Augusta like this in the Masters, firm and fast and putts getting away from you. Even though I had a 15-footer on the eighth, a chance for birdie, and you’re just trying to lag it down to the hole.
“It’s not very enjoyable when you’re doing it, but when you look back on it, that was pretty cool.”
The Masters – Live
April 9, 2021, 2:00pm
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