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'Rusty' Spieth 'played pretty well', unconcerned he's seven off pace

SYDNEY, Australia -- Anxious. Nerves. Rusty.

Not words that normally come from Jordan Spieth's mouth. But that's what he felt during his opening one-under par 70 at the Australian Open that left him seven shots off the lead held by 22-year-old Australian Cameron Davis.

The defending champion was playing his first tournament round since the Sunday singles at the Presidents Cup on October 1, and it showed.

"This was actually the longest I've had in between tournaments, since maybe college," Spieth said immediately after his round on Thursday.

"Even last year was a week less. I was a little anxious to get started. I kind of had the nerves to begin, and my short game was a bit rusty and then started to kind of pick it up and played pretty well from there."

Spieth mixed five bogeys with six birdies in tricky 30-40 km/h gusting winds at The Australian Golf Club. The conditions were such that he was one of only eight players to break par in the afternoon field, while playing partner Cameron Smith was one of only four players to shoot in the 60s with a two-under 69. Putting that into context, 29 players broke par in nearly pristine breathless conditions in the morning -- including Jason Day who registered eight birdies in his five-under 66.

Spieth was not anxious about being so far back from the lead.

"There was tremendous scoring conditions this morning which we're hoping to see in the morning tomorrow," Spieth said.

"I've got to go out and take advantage and try and move up the board. And those guys will get what we had this afternoon and it will certainly be more difficult. Being seven back isn't really seven back given the difference in the waves."

Spieth's rust was visible mostly in his normally well-oiled iron play and short game. He made two soft bogeys on the first two holes after missing the green both times and failing to get up and down.

He made consecutive birdies on four and five but then gave another straight back on the 6th courtesy of a wayward tee shot. He then traded birdies with bogeys on four consecutive holes on the back nine before, in his words, "stealing one" on 18 with a brilliant 20-foot putt following a "sub-par wedge".

"Throughout the first couple of holes it was just kind of getting started," Spieth said.

"Three under from there is pretty solid in this wind.

"I take a lot of pride in [the] bounce back stat, after a bad hole coming back and making a birdie. I did that but then I was then bouncing back after the birdie.

"I bogeyed just about every hole after I made a birdie. Fortunately we finished on 18 with a birdie, I can't bogey the 19th.

"Each shot right after a birdie when I thought I'd get some momentum, I just couldn't quite maintain it today. The short game just didn't feel extremely comfortable. But it's getting there. I started to feel better later in the round."

Spieth said he was aiming for four or five under on Friday morning to get himself back in the mix, and he predicted that scoring would become more difficult over the weekend.

"My goal was to shoot three or four [under] per round so I've got to make up a couple," Spieth said.

"This golf course is going to bake out on the weekend. It's going to play pretty similar tomorrow to today.

"I think that's what they have to do to even it out with the waves. But on the weekend you see scores back up on this course because the wind always blows and the greens firm up. So I'm not anxious about the finish of this tournament yet."

Day talked about 20-under as a total that might put him in the mix for his first Stonehaven Cup on Sunday, but he said that prior to the afternoon field teeing off.

Spieth's playing partner Matt Jones, who beat Spieth to the title by a single shot at this venue in 2015, said that Thursday's morning field were in for "a shock" on Friday afternoon after battling his way to an even-par 71. Spieth will hope the rest of the field experiences his anxiousness and nerves on day two.