Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Golf Masters

Masters 2015: Jordan Spieth steals the show on first day at Augusta

By Robert Jones

The crowds at Augusta had come to see big guns Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, but it was young gun Jordan Spieth and old hand Ernie Els who stole the show.

American Spieth, just 21 years of age, leads the Masters on eight under par after a superb 64.

South African Els, one of the games senior statesmen at 45, is in joint second after a five under 67, alongside American Charley Hoffman and England's Justin Rose.

Spieth said: "That was very special. Last year I was really tentative but this year I was more ready to fire at some pins.

"I thought I could maybe post a nine under 63 coming down the stretch - but I will take one less."

The much anticipated return of Woods was a kaleidoscope of colour and adventure.

A three-putt at the first for bogey was followed by a birdie at the par-five second, detonating a celebration that could be heard in neighbouring South Carolina.

Another shot went at the par-three fourth after finding sand off the tee.

He was out of position again at the seventh and fashioned a shot from memory out of the trees to rescue par. A birdie at the eighth was followed by a double-bogey at the ninth to leave him one over at the turn.

Up ahead, Els offered Woods hope that with patience and commitment the form of old might yet return.

An eagle at the 15th shot Els into the outright lead on six under par with two to play before Spieth birdied the 13th to take a one-shot lead.

Maybe the Open Championship Els won three years ago at the age of 42 is not to be the last major in his collection.

The number five floated beforehand related to Woods and the possibility of a fifth Green Jacket. That switched to Els' attempt to take his major tally to five.

It has been a while since Rose imposed his rhythmic presence on any tournament.

The 2013 US Open champion rode into Augusta on the back of three missed cuts in five events, but as he reminded us with a beautifully crafted 67 to take him into a share of the lead on five under par, class has a way of rising to the top at the big show.

"You've got to believe in yourself, you've got to believe that you're a champion," said Rose.

"I'm a major champion, won great tournaments.

"I didn't have a ton of form, didn't expect it, but it doesn't surprise me."

Of course, it's Bubba Watson who possesses what McIlroy wants and what Woods wants again.

And although a challenging finish to the defending champion's round brought him less reason than last year to linger at the 18th, the scene of his second triumph, it was clear that he has the mind to win.

The response to him when he reappeared at the first tee and launched his attempt to become only the third man to defend his title was subdued.

It suggested that Ulsterman McIlroy is not the only one who has been shielded from some of the searing scrutiny by the morbid fascination with Woods.

It was not an instant stamp of Augusta ownership from him: not the best first tee shot of the three and even Gunn Yang - the Korean amateur in that group, whose punishment by the Augusta National was painful to behold - was on the first green before him.

But there was to be no impediment to progress for a long time and nothing to cause him to flinch.

When McIlroy arrived at the first green, an hour or so later, the American's stealthy progress through the first four holes was visible on the scoreboard through the pine trees. A birdie and three pars was what he would have read.

Watson has talked often of how he wants to alter the parameters of the game.

"My game isn't based on hitting fairways and hitting greens," he observed recently. "It's not based on a mechanical thing. It's based on having fun, feeling a shot and pulling a shot off."

That philosophy has invited comparisons with Seve Ballesteros, which he has welcomed.

But the eighth was upon us before the first guttural roar to accompany Watson's 64ft, arcing putt, which so nearly delivered him an eagle. That was when the memories of last year were at their strongest. Back then, it was at the eighth that his five-iron into the green secured him a birdie four.

The putter deserted him at the 11th, sending him back to one under when something spectacular was needed. There was something more human at the par-five 13th this time than the 366-yard shot which brushed the trees on the left and cut out convention.

It was with the home straight in sight that the game which had looked so secure began to desert him. The best of his touch was required at the 17th for the chip in for par and then came a poor tee shot at the 18th which put him in trouble, followed by the wood approach shot which put his ball in the midst of spectators' seats.

The people's champion might have thought he had been saved by the people, as his ball would certainly have travelled beyond that spot had they not been there. But he could not rescue a par, finishing one under.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph