By Larry Fine
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) – Jordan Spieth was pleased with a six-under 66 that gave him a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Masters but with the memory of his 2016 collapse still fresh in his mind the Texan knows better than to get carried away with a good start at Augusta National.
Spieth stormed past a crowded leaderboard on Thursday with a string of five consecutive birdies from the par-five 13th before dropping a shot at the 18th.
“I think this golf course is a lot easier to play if you feel like you can just hit the center of the greens and move from there and wait for your chances,” Spieth told reporters. “It’s easy to say that.
“If you get off to a good start, you’re in control of your own fate, versus needing a little bit of help.”
Spieth, who has two runner-up finishes and a runaway victory at the last four Masters, has plenty of heavy-hitters stalking him. 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy, who is a Green Jacket away from the career grand slam, are both within three shots.
Two years ago, Spieth was in prime position to defend his Masters title but somehow managed to squander a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play.
He went bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey after making the turn, taking a humiliating seven at the short par-three 12th after twice splashing in Rae’s Creek, to virtually hand the Green Jacket to England’s Danny Willett.
“This tournament often feels like there’s six rounds with how the weekend grind is,” said the 24-year-old. “I feel like I’m kind of one round down out of six, so I’m not getting ahead of myself.”
Spieth says his putting stroke and iron play are approaching the levels that have also won him U.S. Open and British Open titles.
“This golf course specifically, brings out a lot of feel in my game, and I think that’s advantageous,” he said.
“It’s nice that I was able to shoot a score like this. I putted well, but I didn’t putt amazingly well.
“I just hit some really solid iron shots on that back nine to go with just some solid, inside of 10, 12 feet, putting.”
The nightmare of 2016, however, has not faded from memory.
“You know, whether it’s tomorrow or it’s Saturday or Sunday, I’ll always have demons out here,” said Spieth.
“But I’ll always have a tremendous amount of confidence out here. Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn’t won here.
“Today I felt the Sunday-type pressure of leading the Masters on the middle of that back nine, and adjusted extremely well.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)