Jordan Spieth takes 2-shot lead after first round of Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- No other course makes him more comfortable. Even more familiar than a sharp short game was his name atop the leaderboard at the Masters.

Jordan Spieth appears to be back on his game.

Spieth took only 10 putts on the back nine Thursday at Augusta National, including five straight birdies. The last one was from tap-in range after another superb pitch, from the left gallery to escape with bogey for a 6-under 66 and a 2-shot lead over Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau.

It was the eighth time in his past 13 rounds at the Masters that Spieth ended a round with the lead.

"I know as well as anybody that anything can happen at Augusta National," Spieth said, a vague reference to the lead he lost on the back nine in 2016 that kept him from winning consecutive green jackets. "It's about riding momentum from last week and this round."

Spieth nearly managed to pull away when he began the back nine with three tough par saves, ran off five straight birdies and overcame a wild drive left into the trees that left him some 250 yards for his third shot.

Tiger Woods, the main attraction in his first time back to the Masters since 2015, had a few bright moments and endless ovations in his round of 73. He felt he played better than he scored. He also knows it could have been worse, especially after dumping a 9-iron into Rae's Creek on the par-3 12th hole and having to make a 15-foot putt for bogey to avoid falling to 4 over par.

The best comeback? That might now belong to Finau.

On the eve of his first Masters, he made a hole-in-one on the seventh hole of the Par 3 Contest and raced toward the green to celebrate. As he turned back toward the tee, his left ankle rolled. Finau went down, the ankle contorted, and he popped it into place. He wasn't sure he could play until tests showed he was cleared to play.

And he played great, opening with a 68 despite a short par putt that he missed on the 14th hole.

"This is a moment I've dreamed of my whole life," Finau said.

Even as well as Spieth played, it might be hard for anyone to pull away. Spieth was among 10 players who broke 70 -- a list that included Rory McIlroy -- on a warm, sunny day with a moderate breeze that looked ideal for scoring.

It was just tough to score, with the greens slick and firm and several tough pin positions, mainly toward the front of the greens. That included the par-5 15th, and no one suffered quite like defending champion Sergio Garcia.

He hit his second shot into the water, and then had his next four shots with a wedge roll back into the water. He made a 10-foot putt -- close to the length of his eagle putt when he won last year -- to make a 13, the highest score ever recorded on No. 15. He wound up with an 81, the highest score in the opening round by a defending Masters champion.

McIlroy, who needs a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, did his part to stay in the game, especially with some tough par-saving putts down the stretch as Spieth was on his run of birdies.

McIlroy shot a 69, the first time he broke 70 in the opening round of the Masters since 2011, and joined a half-dozen other players at 69 that included Henrik Stenson, Charley Hoffman, Patrick Reed and 22-year-old Li Haotong of China.

Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were among those at 70. So was Marc Leishman, who played in the group with Woods and Tommy Fleetwood and led most of the day until a chip from behind the 15th green came out too strong and didn't stop rolling until it was headed down the bank and into the water, leading to a double-bogey.