AUGUSTA, Ga. — "What happened?"
Jordan Spieth stood in the rough to the right side of the fairway at No. 14 — "Chinese Fir" to you Augusta purists — and tried to figure out where his second shot had just gone. He was more than 180 yards from the hole, behind a few overhanging tree branches, and at first thought he'd flown the green. But the cheer from the crowd seemed suggest otherwise, and sure enough, Spieth had hit the flagstick. He followed that with a virtual tap-in to drop to eight under par. It was the signature shot of a signature round.
Golf is all about context. Had Spieth pulled off this miracle approach on a Sunday, it would vault into Masters lore and top-10-best-shot lists. But this is the first day of the 2015 Masters, and so Spieth's flagstick rattle is merely strut-worthy.
Golf is also all about metaphor. Just minutes after Spieth's gem, Tiger Woods, two holes and nine strokes behind, dunked his tee shot on No. 12 ("Golden Bell," but you knew that), the worst shot of an unspectacular 1-over round. It doesn't get much more obvious than that, does it?
Spieth roared into this tournament last year too young to even buy a cheap beer at one of the concession stands. He carried the lead into the final day, only to see it slip away.
"It's tough to sleep on a lead here, and I saw that last year," he said Thursday after carding an 8-under 64 that gave him a 3-stroke lead heading into Round 2. "But at the same time, I'm a lot more confident in the way that I can handle certain situations, and the patience levels I can have, having closed a couple of events out since [last year]."
His peers are taking note. In the midst of Spieth's birdie run — six in seven holes — playing partner Billy Horschel joked, "I need a tape recorder that just plays, 'Nice hole, Jordan,' on each tee box."
Ernie Els was even more effusive. “You just cannot see this kid not win many, many majors," The Big Easy said after his round, a 5-under 67. "I think he is by far the most balanced kid I’ve seen."
If Spieth isn't the future of golf, it's only because he's already arrived. His 8-under 64 is the lowest opening round at the Masters in 19 years. Only 14 players have ever gone that low or lower in a single round, and his finish was just one stroke off the low-score record not just for the Masters, but for all four of golf's majors.
Granted, there's a long way to go. Of those 14 low-scorers, only two ended up winning (Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and Gary Player in 1978). The last guy to go as low as Spieth in an opening round at Augusta was Greg Norman in 1996, and that round preceded what would be one of the ugliest collapses in all of sports history. And in the past 30 years, only one first-round Masters leader, Trevor Immelman in 2008, has gone on to win.
"It's Round 1," Spieth said. "It's just a lot of good breaks and good putting and chipping and short game. ... There's 54 holes left, and anything happens in a major."
So, yeah, there's work to do. But for almost every one of the last 80 or so rounds of the majors, the predominant question on everyone's mind has been "How did Tiger do?" On Friday, and perhaps for a long time afterward, the subject of that question will change.
What will Jordan do? No idea yet, but it's going to be fascinating to watch.
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