AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 82nd Masters Tournament was billed as a thrill ride and most of Thursday's first round didn't disappoint.
Jordan Spieth restored some measure of sanity late in the day.
Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion and the fourth-ranked player in the world, birdied five holes in a row on the second nine of the Augusta National Golf Club and despite a bogey at the last, finished with a 6-under-par 66 to take a two-shot lead over Matt Kuchar of St. Simons Island, Ga., and Masters rookie Tony Finau.
There are seven players tied at 3 under, including Rory McIlroy, who is trying to close out the career grand slam, Henrik Stenson, former Augusta University player Patrick Reed, Haotong Li of China, and Charley Hoffman.
Spieth rallied from a pair of bogeys at Nos. 5 and 7 to eagle the par-5 8th on a 14-foot putt. After carefully making three up-and-down pars on the first third of the second nine -- and after changing a slippery glove -- he stepped on the gas with a two-putt birdie at No. 13 and birdie putts of 9 feet or less on the next four holes.
Spieth halted his own momentum when his wild drive to the left produced his third bogey of the day. He had to punch out of the trees sideways, landed his third shot left of the green, and made a deft pitch to within inches of the hole.
"I've had to do some interesting things on 18," Spieth said. "I wasn't very on with the driver. I hit a beautiful chip shot [for his third]. I couldn't have gotten it closer with a whole bucket of balls."
Kuchar had a similar run on the second nine after two early bogeys and played his last 11 holes at 6 under, without another blemish on his card.
Refreshed by an early-morning game of tennis with his wife and sons, Kuchar also had his irons on target and made his five birdies on the second nine on putts of 10 feet or less -- including a shot to within one pace at the par-3 16th to set up a tap-in birdie and a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 18.
"Playing tennis was a way to spend some time with the family and take your mind off the game," Kuchar said.
Kuchar's tie for fourth last year was his fourth top-10 at Augusta in six years.
"It's so exciting to be at the Masters, so exciting," he said. "Every year you get such a buzz on the driving range, in the practice rounds, that you can't wait for the golf to get going."
Before Spieth and Kuchar made their late sprints up the leaderboard, only the most vivid of imaginations could have conjured the amazing and even zany happenings.
--Defending champion Sergio Garcia made a 13 at the par-5 15th, almost doubling his previous high score at the hole and taking 10 shots more than the last time he played it.
--Tiger Woods dampened the "he's back" chatter with a 1-over 73. Phil Mickelson, trying to become the oldest Masters champion ever, at least finished under par with a 70.
--Amateur Doug Ghim made two eagles, including the first eagle-two at No. 18 in 12 years.
--Finau led the tournament at one point, 24 hours after he dislocated his ankle at the Par-3 Contest when he ran wildly at a green after making a hole-in-on and turned the ankle. In front of a national TV audience, a clip that has gone viral on the Internet, he popped the ankle back into place and was ready to play after an MRI early Thursday showed no damage.
"If it didn't happen to me, I'd probably laugh," he said.
--And Li, the first golfer from China to crack the world's top 50 and playing in his first Masters, had a share of the lead before making a bogey at No. 18.
Above it all rose Spieth, whose freewheeling game and streak putting seems to be made for Augusta, in the mold of Arnold Palmer and Mickelson.
Spieth led wire-to-wire in 2015 and tied Woods' 72-hole scoring record of 270. He also was in contention in 2014, 2016 and last year and has finished tied for 11th or higher in all four appearances.
"I think I have the right amount of confidence and composure that it takes," he said of playing Augusta National. "This course brings out a lot of feel to my game." ___
This article is written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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