AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth does not need to wear his green jacket to show his credentials as the defending Masters champion. It comes out in the way he walks, the crowds he draws, the roars he elicits and, more than anything, the scores he shoots at Augusta National Golf Club.
No one ever has made a bigger splash or better impression through his first nine career Masters rounds than Spieth has. In his case, that featured taking the lead with a 6-under-par 66 in fairly difficult conditions on Thursday, which continued this trend: He never has shot worse than par. His average score is 68.78 and he is a stunning 29 shots under par since his first official shot here two years ago. He opened with a 64 last year on the way to a wire-to-wire victory.
The place just agrees with the defending champion, and vice versa.
“It is like playing with a Tiger or a Phil, but they are all different. But playing with Jordan, there definitely is ‘Something’ there, yeah, so it’s very cool,” said Paul Casey, who played in the same threesome with Spieth and saw a bogey-free round that included several inspired par saves (such as tough ones from off the greens at Nos. 1, 4 and 12).
“That was a flawless round of golf,” said Casey, who is tied for fourth at 3 under. “I played a wonderful round of golf, but it was great to have a front row seat to watch that.”
Spieth admitted he did well with “what I felt like was kind of average-ish ball striking,” but he was well pleased. “I enjoy this tournament more than anywhere else,” he said.
Which is not to say this weekend will be a coronation. Danny Lee and Shane Lowry are only two strokes behind and Casey is part of an impressive group that is one stroke behind them. Those at 2 under include Rory McIlroy, who is looking to complete the career grand slam here.
But the fact remains that Spieth again avoided the pitfalls during an uncharacteristically cool, windy day on a tough course — the sort of challenges that beset world No. 1 Jason Day, who was 5 under at the turn but had a three-hole stretch of five over on the back nine and finished with par 72.
Spieth was undaunted, too, by having to use a rebuilt driver after his favorite one developed a small crack during practice on Wednesday. No big deal. “We just stay patient with what we’re doing. We know how to win this tournament,” he said, referring to himself and caddie Michael Greller as a team. “We believe in our process and if the putts are dropping, then hopefully it goes our way.”
The putts were dropping on Thursday, as they normally do for him here. “He loves the greens,” said U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau, who also was in Spieth’s group and shot a creditable 72. “We were walking up 18 and he said, ‘I don’t know what it is about this place. I just love putting here. I can see the break, I can see the lines.’ I was quite impressed with that.”
As Casey said, Spieth just has that Something, with a capital “S.”
“He just exudes that sort of, whatever it is, that you expect from a major champion,” Casey said. “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.”
Fans, many of whom come every year, let Spieth know how special a title-holder is with a goose-bump inducing ovation on the 12th tee. “The gallery recognizes that you have won here and that this is a special place to you,” Spieth said. “That’s kind of what it felt like to me.”
Jordan Spieth is a combined 29 under par for his nine rounds at Augusta (par 72), the best in Masters history through nine rounds. He has not had a round worse than par.
2014 (-5): 71, 70, 70, 72
2015 (-18): 64, 66, 70, 70
2016 (-6): 66