Paul Casey could sense it Thursday in the first round of the 80th Masters Tournament.
Playing alongside Jordan Spieth, Casey couldn’t quite define it, but he likened it to the air that surrounds Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, only a little bit different.
“Playing with Jordan, there definitely is something there,” Casey said. “He just exudes that sort of, whatever that is, that you expect … from a world No. 1 major champion.
“It's a knowing, it's a confidence. It's the way he walks. It's the way he stands. It goes all the way through from the way he speaks and the way he shakes your hand and the way he deals with people, as well. It's wonderful.”
Spieth’s aura was again palpable at Augusta National Golf Club, as the 22-year-old who won the first two majors last year and contended late in the other two shot a 6-under-par 66 to take a two-shot lead into Friday’s second round.
Spieth shot the only bogey-free round on a blustery day at Augusta National that featured steady wind with gusts exceeding 25 mph, and has the two-stroke lead over Danny Lee and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
Casey, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia are among five players who are three back at 3-under 69.
“I played a wonderful round of golf, but it was great to have a front row seat to watch that,” said Casey, a three-time Ryder Cup participant who tied for sixth behind Spieth in his ninth Masters last year.
“I am extremely pleased with that round today. I felt like we stole a few,” Spieth said. “I got a lot out of the round with what I felt like was kind of average-ish ball-striking. I just scored the ball extremely well, which is something I've been struggling with this season.
“That normally just comes down to putting, and I certainly made a lot of putts today.”
Spieth matched Tiger Woods’ record winning total of 18-under 270 last year when he opened with a 64, and is off to a similarly strong start.
He’s the first defending Masters champion to hold the outright lead after the opening round since Jack Nicklaus in 1966.
Spieth meticulously carved up Augusta National with birdies on holes 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 and 18, hitting approach shots within 4 and 13 feet on five holes and two-putting from 12 feet on the par-5 13th. He also made a handful of impressive par saves, including reaching the left side of the green alongside water with a 210-yard 4-iron through trees on the dangerous 11th hole – a shot that was hit against the wishes of caddie Michael Greller.
“I put it up there with one of the best rounds I've played; one of the best rounds I've scored,” Spieth said.
Spieth said he didn’t feel entirely comfortable on iron shots Thursday and was playing with a new driver head after the face of his longstanding driver cracked on Wednesday.
I just didn’t feel confident after the first couple mid‑iron shots I hit. The good news out here is so much of it is feel‑based, where you have so many different slopes you're hitting off of. You have a downslope off one hole, an upslope right‑to‑left on the next. You’ve got to work it. It's most important what the ball does right at impact, and I felt like I was still there.
“I just didn't feel confident after the first couple mid‑iron shots I hit,” Spieth said. “The good news out here is so much of it is feel‑based, where you have so many different slopes you're hitting off of. You have a downslope off one hole, an upslope right‑to‑left on the next. You've got to work it. It's most important what the ball does right at impact, and I felt like I was still there.”
Spieth has a win and runner-up finish in his only two Masters appearances, and has yet to shoot a round over par in the tournament.
“We just stay patient with what we're doing,” Spieth said. “We know how to win this golf tournament, and we believe in our process, and if the putts are dropping, then hopefully it goes our way.”
Australian Jason Day, who has overtaken Spieth at No. 1 in the world with wins in his past two events and six of his past 13, appeared destined to join Spieth at the top of the leaderboard after he was 5 under with an eagle and just one bogey through 14 holes.
But his round quickly and uncharacteristically unraveled with a poor wedge into the 15th green and subsequent three-putt for bogey, shot into the water and subsequent three-putt for a triple on the 16th and bogey following a wayward drive on the 17th.
His triple on the 16th is his lone career triple at the Masters in 324 holes, and Day’s even-par 72 breaks his string of eight consecutive rounds under par in majors.
“It's not the way I planned it out today, but I felt like I played some really good golf up until ,” Day said. “If you get yourself out of position here at this course it's very difficult to salvage par, and unfortunately starting at 15 I got myself out of position pretty good.
“… Even though I gave up five shots in three holes, I’m only six shots out. If I can play the way I did the first 14 holes I think I can make it up. I just have to bear down and push forward.”
Lee’s experience Thursday was vastly different than his last competitive round at Augusta National in his only previous appearance in 2009 as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. He shot a second-round 81 that included a six-putt.
“One of the things I remember from seven years ago was making a six‑putt on the 10th green,” said Lee, who arrived in Augusta last Thursday. “I was very disappointed about it, but [playing partners] Adam Scott and Trevor [Immelman] were just laughing at me. I was like, ‘Seriously guys?’ ”
Rory McIlroy, who can complete the career Grand Slam with a win this week, had the day’s last tee time and is tied for ninth after a 70 that included an eagle on the 13th and bogeys on 16 and 18.
“It’s a little disappointing the way I finished, but a score of 70 or in the 60s out there was really good,” McIlroy said. “I knew I would have had to play one of the best rounds of my life this afternoon to shoot 66, so I tried to stay within myself.”