Jordan Spieth lights up The Masters with astonishing birdie blitz as Rory McIlroy lurks menacingly
Jordan Spieth feels at home on Augusta's lush fairways.
The exceptionally gifted Texan has played The Masters four times before this year. His finishes are, chronologically: T2, 1, T2 and 11th.
It's an extraordinary record and one that makes what he did on Thursday night all the more believable. Spieth, who has struggled with his putting so far this season, produced his best golf to snatch the overnight lead after an enthralling opening round.
On a day when Sergio Garcia posted a 13, Tiger Woods sprayed drives all over the place and Tony Finau recovered from a dislocated ankle to shoot 68, Spieth was the last man standing, looking down on the rest of the pile after a sparkling 66.
It's early, yes, but it's never a smart move to bet against Spieth when he's at the summit in a major championship. He imploded spectacularly in 2016 to open the door to Danny Willett but one feels the 24-year-old is too whip-smart and too strong a frontruner to repeat that mistake.
With the Finau story grabbing our attention for a healthy chunk of an engrossing opening round, Spieth flew under the radar. Getting to the turn in 34 was solid, but nothing mindblowing, but his eagle at the eighth was a sign of things to come.
After starting the homeward nine with a hat-trick of pars, Spieth took off. He strung together five straight birdies from 13-17, a stretch of holes when he was completely in command of his golf ball. It's an ominous sign to see Spieth cruising so confidently.
That glorious five-birdie surge came to a grinding halt at 18. Spieth drove into the trees but he took his medicine and pitched a delightful fourth shot to within two feet to accept a bogey and sign for a 66. Lesser players, you feel, wouldn't have got up and down.
His irons were dispatched straight at the targets and he'd found the rhythm of the greens. Taking full advantage of the milder afternoon conditions, Spieth will be a hard man to catch.
Three years ago, Jordan Spieth became the fifth wire-to-wire winner in Masters history. You know, not tweeting that right now for any specific reason or anything...
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) April 5, 2018
Lurking with intent, of course, is Rory McIlroy. The Holywood native, chasing the career slam, of course, posted a promising opening round of 69. The 28-year-old is very much in touch. Don't count him out.
We know how hot McIlroy can get when he finds his groove. On Thursday, it seemed like a battling round, even though he had no shortage of birdies. The key for McIlroy was that he holed putts and kept silly blemishes off his card, with just the one bogey. If he continues this brand of tidy, relatively stress-free golf, McIlroy will most certainly be a major factor here throughout the week.
If he gets the bit between his teeth, the four-times major winner has the tools to bring Augusta to its knees.
That's not easily done, of course, but Spieth certainly made light work of the closing stretch on Thursday.
The emerging narrative here is a potential Spieth-Rory showdown. Tiger fans wanted their man to complete his remarkable comeback with a fairytale victory but, in terms of stories in the modern game, it doesn't get much more mouthwatering than the game's two most prominent twentysomethings going toe-to-toe.