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Shane Lowry rediscovers his best form to stay on the tail of early leader Spieth

The 29-year-old made a storming start to set the platform for a four-under par round.

Lowry lies in a tie for second.
Lowry lies in a tie for second.
Image: Charlie Riedel

SHANE LOWRY REDISCOVERED his best form at the most opportune moment to card a near flawless first round of 68 at the Masters.

The Irishman sits just two shots behind leader, and defending champion, Jordan Spieth after Thursday’s opening round while Rory McIlroy is a further two shots adrift.

Lowry, who has so far struggled to find his touch this season, carded four birdies in his opening six holes at Augusta to settle the nerves and provide the platform for a brilliant four-under par round.

The 29-year-old recorded five birdies in all before the turn as he maintained pace with Spieth, who seized control of the leaderboard twelve months after his wire-to-wire victory.

Lowry dropped a shot at the par three 12th but regained his control to finish with six straight pars and claim a tie for second alongside Danny Lee and Paul Casey.

Spieth fired a six-under par 66 to match the low first round by any reigning Masters champion to lead for a record fifth consecutive round.

He was the only player in the 89-strong field not to cough up a bogey on a breezy day in the first of the year’s four majors.

The American, who opened with an eight-under 64 en route to his record-matching victory last year, reached the turn in 31 after birdies at the fourth, sixth and eighth and he added three others down the back nine at 10, 13 and 18.

Taking advantage of fine early playing conditions as the 80th Masters got underway, Spieth was in the clubhouse and able to sit back and see if top rivals Jason Day and McIlroy could keep pace with him during the afternoon’s action.

They could not.

His day’s best means that he has been the leader after six of the nine Masters rounds he has played at Augusta National since his debut in 2014, including the last five in a row.

Underlining the quality of Spieth’s round was the fact that only seven other players were able to score in the 60s.

Masters Golf Spieth was peerless once again. Source: Matt Slocum

Adopted New Zealander Lee got closest after a 68, 13 strokes better than in the last round he played at Augusta as an amateur in 2009, and he was joined at four-under by Lowry.

A stroke further back were three Englishmen — Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter — alongside Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark.

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Career Grand Slam seeker McIlroy could have joined them on that mark, but he plugged his approach to the last in a bunker and took a bogey as a punishment.

It was an odd round for world number one Day, the tournament favourite who is aiming for back-to-back major titles after taking the PGA Championship last year.

He charged out in  five under 31 but then limped back in at five over 41 to end where he started at level par.

McIlroy, with four majors under his belt already, eagled the 15th to get to 4-under but promptly three-putted to hand one back and then bogeyed the last to fall to 2-under.

“I am a little disappointed the way I finished, but 70 was not a bad score out there and in the 60s would have been really good,” he said.

Three-time former winner Phil Mickelson came in with a level 72, but 2013 winner Adam Scott struggled all day for a 76 as did Bubba Watson for a 75.

Masters Golf McIlroy was left frustrated by four bogeys. Source: David J. Phillip

There were struggles, too, for another top American hope, Rickie Fowler, who was moving along smoothly at even par through nine, but then bogeyed 10 and took an eight at the par-5 13th, where he hit into Rae’s Creek in front of the green.

Fowler went into the water again at the 16th for a double bogey and finally limped in with an 80, leaving him with a mountain to climb just to make the cut.

“Golf’s tough. It’s a fine line, especially at this place,” a crestfallen Fowler said.

But that was nothing compared to the horrors that beset four-time major winner Ernie Els, who had an astonishing nine at the par-4 first hole, virtually wrecking his tournament in the space of a few minutes.

It was the worst-ever score at the opening hole in the history of the tournament.

Leaderboard available here.

© AFP 2016

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