Spieth Leads Masters For Fifth Straight Round

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Blustery Conditions Hold Down Low Scores

By John Ventola

Jordan Spieth seems intent on becoming only the fourth golfer to win two consecutive Masters. The 22-year-old Dallas native, who parlayed his scintillating opening round 64 last year to capture his first major with a record-setting 18 under par, used an early morning start and a solid, bogey-free round Thursday to set the tone for this year’s tournament. Spieth’s 6 under par 66 gives him a two-shot lead over a group of international challengers heading into the second round.

Spieth’s opening defense of his Green Jacket featured a steady game in which he carded six birdies, staying out of trouble with consistent drives and sharp, controlled

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Spieth Jumps Out To Early Lead

play around the greens. While not as eye-catching as last year’s opening round when he posted nine birdies and one bogey (on the par 5, 530 yard 15th), the lead he established early was never seriously challenged because of windy conditions, and finishing hole troubles by some of his anticipated competition.

Only Jack Nicklaus (’65 and ’66), Nick Faldo (’89 and ’90), and Tiger Woods (’01 and ’02), have won two consecutive Masters.

The No. 1 ranked player in the world, Australian Jason Day, appeared to have Spieth in his sights, shooting a five-under-par on the front nine, including an eagle on the second hole, before faltering down the stretch and finishing with par 72. Day took seventeen strokes to navigate holes 15 (par 5), 16 (par 3), and 17 (par 4), posting an unbelievable six on the par three 16th.

Day shot an opening round 67 last year before falling out of contention with a second round 74, and disappearing with a final round 75. His one under 2015 tournament finish, seventeen strokes behind Spieth, did nothing to show the consistency with which he has played in recent majors, and definitely did not indicate what was coming over the

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Day And McIlroy Could Still Pose Major Obstacles To Second Green Jacket

last year. Coming into Thursday’s round, Day had posted twelve rounds in the 60s during his last five majors, had eight career PGA tour wins, (five championships last year, and the 2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational).

Rory McIlroy, 26, who came into last year’s Masters ranked No. 1, and who needs a green jacket to complete a career grand slam, shot an erratic opening round, scoring one eagle, four birdies, and four bogeys (two on the final three holes) as he finished with a two-under par 70. The Northern Ireland golfer shot an opening round 71 last year before righting himself and shooting 15 under par over his final 45 holes, finishing six strokes behind Spieth.

McIlroy, the two-time PGA tour player of the year, should be in contention by Sunday if he is able to muster a similar run of golf this year.

Long-hitting Bubba Watson, the winner of the 2012 and 2014 Masters, appears to have lost his every-other-year magic. Watson joined McIlroy in the erratic category when he

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Watson Joins Els And Fowler In Shooting Erratic Rounds

shot an opening round 75 comprised of five birdies, six bogeys, and one double bogey. He seemed to lose focus after missing a short, mid-round putt, scoring a 41 on the back nine.

While Day may have faltered somewhat, his countryman Danny Lee and Ireland’s Shane Lowry are tied for second place with four under par 68s. Lowry actually misread a couple of putts or he would have been the first day’s leader.

Last year five players tied for second after the first day, three strokes behind Spieth. He then stunned golf fans by shooting a six under par on Friday to set a new Masters two-day scoring record of minus 14. That effort easily positioned him to be able to play cautiously and avoid major problems during his four-under par weekend.

England’s Paul Casey, Justin Rose, and Ian Poulter join Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen in a fourth-place tie with three under par 69s. Rose finished

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Foreign Players Lead The Challenge

tied for second last year with Phil Mickelson, four shots behind Spieth.

Stiff flagsticks caused by constant winds seemed to blend with azaleas and other blooming plants as golfers tried to move around the legendary Augusta course. Averaging all player scores, each hole played at over-par except for three of the course’s four par fives. Players had to focus on shot selections, blustery winds, and the demanding, sloping course, resulting in some usual scores for high-profile players.

South African Ernie Els got off to probably the worst start in Masters history when he scored a nine on the par four opening hole. Els, who has changed his putting grip since experiencing putting problems in recent years, putted six times on the first green.

Rickie Fowler, who has three career PGA tour wins (two coming last year in The

JV Sport Shots

Els And Fowler Would Like A Restart

Players Championship and The Deutsche Bank Championship), achieved his highest ranking ever when he captured the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on the European Tour in early January, He had problems all day, shooting two birdies, four bogeys, two double bogeys, and one triple bogey.

Els and Fowler both scored opening round 80s, eight over par, and fourteen off of Spieth’s pace. Anything is possible, but it will take a complete turnaround for Els and Fowler to see the tee box Saturday morning.

It was that kind of day at Augusta. Windy, with unusual scores for top-ranked players. Spieth has now led the Masters for five consecutive rounds. His confidence and creative shot-making ability were on display Thursday, and his steady play bodes well for his being fitted for another Green Jacket after Sunday’s final round.

If Spieth or one of the other seven golfers that put up cards in the 60s Thursday wins the tournament, it will mark the eighth consecutive year the eventual winner posted an opening round 60s score (Watson, 69 in 2014; Spieth, 64 in 2015).

Spieth was unflappable as he held off the field last year. Look for McIlroy, Day, Rose, or another player to put the pressure on him this weekend. The winds, they are a blow ‘in in those Georgia pines. The next three rounds should be interesting.

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