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Defending champ Jordan Spieth leads after Masters first round

Leader Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller congratulate each other after a first-round 66.

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Leader Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller congratulate each other after a first-round 66.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Nostalgia had its moments on the first morning of the Masters on Thursday.

Tom Watson, playing in his final Masters, birdied the third hole and will forever be able to say he held a share of the lead at age 66. But youth soon asserted itself as defending champion Jordan Spieth, 22, resumed his mastery of the course that made him a star.

Spieth's opening round of 6-under 66 gave him the first-round lead, with an often firm breeze blowing. Danny Lee, 25, and Shane Lowry, 29, were two back.

Following his wire-to-wire win last year, Spieth became the first player in Masters history to hold the outright lead after five consecutive rounds. Arnold Palmer led or shared the lead in six straight from 1960-61. Spieth is the fourth defending champion to hold the outright lead after Round 1. The last to do it was Jack Nicklaus in 1966; he went on to win.

"I'm just very pleased with it," Spieth said of his 66. "I put it up there with one of the best rounds I've played, one of the best rounds I've scored."

Spieth tied for second in his first Masters, in 2014, and won wire-to-wire last year with a record-tying 18-under 270. After setting a Masters record with 28 birdies in 2015, he produced six in the first round this year with nary a bogey.

World-class scrambling and putting were required, however. Spieth escaped with pars from compromised positions on the fourth, 11th, 12th, 14th and watery par-3 16th, where he missed the green, made a perilous chip downhill and holed a midrange putt to save his 3.

"With these conditions and a western wind, it makes these holes very challenging, a lot of into-the-wind shots," said Spieth, who shot 64 in last year's opening round.

Rory McIlroy, trying to complete the career Grand Slam by winning his first Masters, made inroads on Augusta's four par 5s, coming away with birdies on the second and 15th and an eagle on 13th. But he bogeyed 16 and 18 to finish with 70.

Jason Day, the world's top-ranked player, was 5 under after 14 holes only to record bogey on the 15th and triple bogey on the par-3 16th after his tee shot ended up in the water. He finished with 72.

"Four bad holes, really, in among some really terrific golf," Day said. "If you get yourself out of position here at this course, it's very difficult to salvage par."

Phil Mickelson, trying to win another Masters at age 45, shot 72. Bubba Watson, a two-time champion at Augusta, had to settle for 75 after a back nine of two birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey. Rickie Fowler, a pretournament favorite looking for his first major, shot 80.

Tom Watson, a two-time winner of the green jacket made bogey on No. 18 to close out his 2-over 74. He finished the day tied for 43rd and still well within range of making the top 50 after today. If he does, he will hit the goal he set this week: the oldest player to make the cut at Augusta National.

"Seventy-four is not bad for old folks," Watson said.

Els' 9: The Masters has been held since 1934, and no one had made 9 on the par-4 first hole until Ernie Els on Thursday. The four-time major champion reached the green in three shots and proceeded to experience perhaps the most acute, most cringe­worthy case of the yips ever seen at Augusta National.

After six halting putts — none of them longer than 4 feet and most of them shorter than 2 — Els walked off the green with a quintuple-bogey 9. The previous worst score was 8, which had happened four times, most recently by Jeev Milkha Singh in 2007.

"It's hard to putt when you've got snakes in your head," Els, 46, said. "It's unexplainable. I couldn't get the putter back. … I don't know how I stayed out there (and finished)."

Els' score was recorded as 10 for much of the day, until a scoring review determined it was actually 9. Els signed a scorecard for 8-over 80 with the score marked as 9.

Els, 46, is less than four years removed from his last major title, the 2012 British Open, but the South African has struggled since golf's ruling bodies banned anchored, or belly, putters at the beginning of this year. His 2012 British win came with the anchored putter.

Health limits Arnie: Palmer did not hit a ceremonial tee shot, but he rode to the first tee in a golf cart and joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the official beginning of the 80th Masters. Wearing the green jacket he won four times at the Masters, Palmer, 86, gave his customary thumbs-up and clapped his hands to the thousands of fans who formed a gauntlet that stretched from the clubhouse area to the first tee.

Nicklaus, 76, said he asked Palmer at the champions dinner Tuesday night about hitting some type of shot on the first tee. Palmer said he would think about it but told Nicklaus on Thursday morning he decided against it. "It's probably the right thing," Nicklaus said. "Arnold's balance is not good, and that's what they're worried about. I think he was delighted to be out there."

Today's weather: Mostly sunny, with a high of 68 and low of 42. Wind will be from the west at 7-15 mph.

The Golf Channel and ESPN contributed to this report.

Defending champ Jordan Spieth leads after Masters first round 04/07/16 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2016 11:11pm]
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