Masters leader Jordan Spieth, seeking his fourth major title, and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, chasing a career Grand Slam, were set for an early charge as Friday’s second round began at Augusta National.
And 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, seven strokes off Spieth’s pace after an opening 73, looked at an afternoon start among the last groups in his first major appearance since 2015 and following four back operations.
Fourth-ranked Spieth fired a six-under par 66, a back-nine run of five consecutive birdies boosting the 24-year-old American to a two-stroke edge over compatriots Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar after 18 holes in the year’s first major golf championship.
The only first-round Masters solo leader since 1984 to capture the green jacket was Spieth in his wire-to-wire 2015 effort.
“To go wire-to-wire in a tournament is a rare occurrence anywhere,” Spieth said. “So I imagine there will be plenty of times, if not from early on, that I don’t lead this tournament anymore. Things happen in this sport. I’m going to try and control what I can control and that’s about it.”
Reigning British Open champion Spieth, who also counts the 2015 US Open in his major title haul, tees off at 10:53 a.m. (1453 GMT) — just one group and 11 minutes behind world number seven McIlroy, who was in a pack of seven sharing fourth on 69.
Both McIlroy and Spieth have suffered notable Masters meltdowns with a green jacket seemingly in their grasp, Spieth in 2016 when leading by five shots with nine holes remaining only to endure a back-nine horror and squander the title won by England’s Danny Willett.
McIlroy, 28, is off to his best start in the Masters since opening with a 64 in 2011 — when his hopes of a wire-to-wire win vanished with a final-round nightmare 80.
The Northern Ireland star went on to win his next major start at the 2011 US Open and now lacks only the Masters to have won each major at least once.
“This is my best start in a few years and, yeah, it’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on,” McIlroy said. “If you start to chase it around here, that’s when you start to make mistakes.
“But to be right up there and have the ability to stay patient, because of the position I’m in, that’s a nice luxury I have over the next few days.
“I don’t feel like I’m trying to get those first two shots back in the morning.”
Tiger Tees Off Late
Woods was the feature attraction in his first major round since the missing the 2015 PGA Championship cut, but struggled with three birdies and four bogeys in round one.
“I could have easily let it slip away. I fought hard to get it back in there and there are a lot of holes to be played. It will be fun the next 54 holes.”
He tees off at 1:27 p.m. (1727 GMT) with several players on 69 joining him late, including Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and the day’s entire final trio — Canada’s Adam Hadwin and Americans Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
Finau, Li Hot; Garcia Not
The earliest campaigners on day two also include two impressive Masters newcomers, Tony Finau on 68 and China’s Li Haotong, who birdied all three holes in famed Amen Corner to open among the leaders on 69.
Finau played well despite a partial left ankle dislocation suffered Wednesday when he landed awkwardly while celebrating an ace in the Masters Par-3 Contest.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia will likely miss the cut to the low 40 and anyone within 10 shots of the lead after an opening 81, the worst-ever round for a Masters defending champion.
Garcia plunked five balls in the water in shooting a 13 at the par-5 15th, the worst score ever on the hole and level with the worst on any hole in Masters history.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits by Richard Barrett)