2015 Masters, Round 1: Spieth Stands Tall
By Torleif Sorenson on 4/9/15
The story of the first round of the 79th Masters Tournament was Jordan Spieth — mostly.

At 4:53 p.m. EDT, the 21-year-old Texan took the solo lead with a birdie at the par-5 13th. At that point, CBS lead analyst Sir Nick Faldo wondered aloud if Greg Norman's course record 63 was in danger. The talk intensified when Spieth's difficult second at the par-4 14th tagged the flagstick, resulting in Spieth's eighth birdie of the day. But alas, Augusta National bit back with a bogey at the 15th. Spieth took that back with a birdie at the closing hole.

Spieth is now the youngest player to shoot 64 in tournament history.

Early in the morning, Charley Hoffman was the first to post 67, which was later matched by Justin Rose, Jason Day, and... 45-year-old Ernie Els.

At the 15th, Els scored a magnificent eagle to surge from -4 to -6, putting him just one stroke behind Spieth. Afterward, he said that his driving has improved and that he has been better at getting birdies in competition lately. Els got started early with the birdie production at the 2nd and 3rd, then hit a lovely recovery shot at the 13th — and an even better approach at the 15th hole.

Day did not move into red figures until a birdie at the par-5 8th, then experienced a see-saw round until reeling off five consecutive birdies from the 12th to the 16th.

Another stroke back at 68 are Russell Henley and the 35-year-old Spaniard, Sergio García — still in search of an elusive major championship. Short-game skills like this will help:

A log-jam of contenders follow, with Bill Haas, Webb Simpson, Paul Casey, and Ryan Palmer at 69. Good-guy Kevin Streelman, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, three-time winner Phil Mickelson, Seung-Yul Noh, and emerging star Billy Horschel all shot 70.

At age 65, Tom Watson beat the heat and much of the field by carding a 1-under 71 — doing it in stifling 90° temperatures. The two-time Masters champion is now the oldest-ever competitor to break par in the tournament, eclipsing the then-61-year-old Sam Snead in 1974.

He is tied at 71 with another Watson: Bubba. The defending champion had a see-saw opening round that began with two birdies at 2 and 5, but ended with a bogey at the last.

When Tiger Woods started out at 1:48 p.m. EDT, most viewers were expecting a brittle short game out of the four-time champion. But Woods was strong with his wedges and putter, evidenced by a magnificent third from the trees at the 9th hole, which only cost him a bogey.

Instead, Woods was betrayed by his long irons and big sticks; he said afterward that he should not have tried to "turn" his shot at the 9th, followed by trying to overhit his second at the 9th and get into a bunker. At the famous par-3 12th, Woods pulled 7-iron — and bounced his tee-shot off the slope and left it in Rae's Creek. Woods was only about 14 inches from holing his third for a near-miraculous par.

Woods and his vastly-improved short-iron play have not blown himself out of the tournament; his 73 has him in a tie for 41st. But he has to score far better on Friday in order to give himself a chance.

In complete contrast, pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy was hot off the tee and from the fairway, including right out of the gate:

But the "Holywood Matinee Idol" really struggled with his short game; he had to scramble a few times to keep the round from getting away from him — particularly after a bogey at the 11th hole. He really had no choice but to carve out birdies at the two par-5s on the closing nine — which he did, finishing with a 1-under 71 and tied with a dozen other hopefuls:


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