Stumbling starts for Spieth, McIlroy as Masters drama resumes

Jordan Spieth of the United States hits his second shot from the pine straw on the first hole during the second round of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia

Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Jordan Spieth, seeking his fourth major title, and Rory McIlroy, chasing a career Grand Slam, stumbled on the opening hole in Friday’s second round of the Masters, where star attraction Tiger Woods had an afternoon start.

Fourth-ranked Spieth fired a six-under par 66 Thursday for a two-stroke lead, but squandered it with a double bogey at the first, leaving him deadlocked with fellow American Matt Kuchar at 4-under par.

Reigning British Open champion Spieth sent his tee shot well right and deep into the Georgia pines, didn’t escape the trees on his second and left his third shy of the green, 20 yards off the front slope.

Spieth left his fourth shot 11 feet from the cup and two-putted to fall from the solo lead.

Seventh-ranked McIlroy fared little better, three-putting for bogey to fall back before a 30-foot birdie putt at the second left the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland only one off the lead.

Woods, in his first major event since missing the 2015 PGA Championship cut, opened with a 73, leaving the 14-time major winner and four-time Masters champion seven adrift of Spieth.

Fans flock to glimpse Woods, whose recovery from spinal fusion surgery saw him contend in two tuneup events last month and created a Tigermania buzz around the course. He was set for a 1:27 p.m. (1727 GMT) start.

“I could have easily let it slip away,” Woods. “I fought hard to get it back in there and there are a lot of holes to be played. It will be fun the next 54 holes.”

Spieth’s wire-to-wire victory in 2015 marked the only time since 1984 that a first-round Masters solo leader took the green jacket.

“To go wire-to-wire in a tournament is a rare occurrence anywhere,” Spieth said. “So I imagine there will be plenty of times, if not from early on, that I don’t lead this tournament anymore. Things happen in this sport.”

– Spieth, McIlroy meltdowns –

Both McIlroy and Spieth have suffered notable Masters meltdowns with a green jacket seemingly in their grasp, Spieth in 2016 when leading by five shots with nine holes remaining only to endure a back-nine horror and squander the title won by England’s Danny Willett.

McIlroy, 28, is off to his best start in the Masters since opening with a 64 in 2011 — when his hopes of a wire-to-wire win vanished with a final-round nightmare 80.

McIlroy went on to win his next major start at the 2011 US Open and now lacks only the Masters to have won each major at least once.

“This is my best start in a few years and, yeah, it’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on,” McIlroy said. “If you start to chase it around here, that’s when you start to make mistakes.”

– Li, Finau falter early –

China’s Li Haotong and American Tony Finau, the first US PGA player of Tongan and Samoan descent, each stumbled early in their second round after ranking among the leaders in their first-ever Masters rounds.

Li, who birdied all three Amen Corner holes in opening 69, had back-to-back bogeys at the par-3 fourth and par-4 fifth on Friday, finding bunkers off the tee on both holes and missing par putts from eight and 10 feet.

Finau, who opened with a bogey after taking three shots to reach the green, shot 68 on day one despite a partial left ankle dislocation suffered Wednesday when he landed awkwardly while celebrating an ace in the Masters Par-3 Contest.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, among the late starters, will likely miss the cut to the low 50 and ties plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead after an opening 81, the worst-ever round for a Masters defending champion.

Garcia plunked five balls in the water in shooting a 13 at the par-5 15th, the worst score ever on the hole and level with the worst on any hole in Masters history.