AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jon Rahm is back in contention at the Masters after shooting a 3-under 69 in the opening round. This time, he'll have a head start on most of the field entering the second round instead of fighting just to make the cut.
The 24-year-old Spaniard finished in fourth place last year at Augusta National, but had to fight from behind after shooting an opening round 75.
"Today, it's just kind of the start," Rahm said. "Trying to get the tournament going. Hopefully you get yourself in position. It's a huge bonus to be in the lead — it's an amazing feeling.
"I'm just happy I shot under par in the first round of the tournament."
Rahm was in the same group on Thursday as Tiger Woods, who also had a good opening round after shooting a 70. Playing with Woods always brings out the crowds, but Rahm didn't seem fazed by the big gallery, playing a bogey-free back nine that included birdies on No. 11 and No. 13.
The two-time PGA Tour winner is known for his temper, but kept his emotions in check on Thursday. He rarely compounded his mistakes. A good example was the 505-yard, par-4 No. 11: He hit his drive into the pine straw, but recovered with an approach that found the green and then finished with a 34-foot putt for birdie. A big grin followed.
"I think that the most important thing is I never lost patience," Rahm said. "I was 1-over par on the par 5s going to the back nine where it's easy to get a little frustrated and I didn't. I kept my cool and I was able to make a great birdie on nine and get where I'm going."
He also got some good fortune on No. 15, when a wayward drive that was flying left bounced off a tree and left a manageable second shot that led to par.
It was his fourth straight round at Augusta National shooting in the 60s.
Last year, Rahm shot 65 on Saturday and a 69 on Sunday, vaulting up the leaderboard to finish four shots behind winner Patrick Reed.
Rahm said that the most encouraging thing about Thursday's round was he managed to stay among the leaders even without being in top form. Now up to No. 8 in the world rankings, playing well at Augusta is beginning to become a habit.
"I didn't have my best, I was a little shaky with the driver, I was able to keep it in the fairway for the better part today," Rahm said. "My iron play also didn't feel the best, but again I was able to manage it and hit some quality shots out there."