Jordan Spieth holed a thrilling 55-foot putt for eagle on the final green to jump into a share of the first-round lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Spieth’s finishing blow prompted arguably the loudest cheers heard on a golf course in over a year, the Dallas native delighting the locals with a superb nine-under 63, matching the earlier benchmark of JJ Spaun.
AT&T Byron Nelson
Rafa Cabrera Bello gave himself a much-needed shot in the arm with a 64, while Ryder Cup stalwarts Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia opened with high-quality 65s – one better than current European captain Padraig Harrington.
A generous TPC Craig Ranch course, made even easier by preferred lies, gave up over 130 sub par rounds, with Bryson DeChambeau frustrated to have shot “only” a 69 which was not enough to get him into the top 70 after day one.
Top of the pile is Spieth, who was one of many players to feel he let a few further opportunities go begging despite his card containing seven birdies and his tram-liner of an eagle at the last.
The longest putt he holed for birdie was a 12-footer on the first green, although he was more than happy to atone for the squandered chances with his crowd-pleasing finale, his huge putt from the wrong level making his journey up the slope and broke left and then right to find its target.
“I could certainly look back and say I missed a couple of pretty easy putts, but I also made the one on 18,” said the resurgent Spieth after his first competitive round since the Masters following an enforced break due to him testing positive for Covid-19.
“I actually had nerves on No 1 like it was the first shot of the season. I didn’t practice for three weeks straight, which is very unusual. Normally two days off is the most during a season, and then just starting back into it.
“So I was pretty nervous on the first tee and getting started. To make the birdie there was kind of cool. It’s almost like the nerves that you feel first shot at a major, Ryder Cup, and just to make a birdie just calmly, I thought that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Spieth also fed off the energy from his hometown fans, who he admitted were probably well-fuelled with “swing juice” when he nailed his big putt on 18 in the early evening sunshine.
“It broke left to right at the beginning and the rest of it was straight. I’m just trying to get to tap-in and cap off a good day, and started leaning because I thought it was going to miss left and it just kind of fell in the left side of the hole.
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“The roar was pretty electric. I mean, it’s just fun. It’s just awesome feeling the support for all three of us, we had two eagles and a birdie on the last in our group where they felt that kind of support the whole day.
“We’re not necessarily doing it for the roars, but it’s a cool bonus at the end when it caps off a round like that.”
Spaun also kept a bogey off his card in a nine-birdie opener, while Cabrera Bello was relieved to take advantage of the friendly conditions after a tough 18 months in which he has posted only one top-10 finish while his world ranking has slipped to 130th.
“It’s been a tough year,” said the Spaniard, with more than a hint of understatement. “I struggle mainly with the irons. My short game in general has been good, putting has been streaky, but in general I wasn’t really worried about it.
“I don’t drive it very long but I tend to be accurate enough, so it’s been the irons. I haven’t been hitting as many greens, not giving myself lots of decent birdie chances, so then I’m obviously putting a lot of pressure at putt and the short game as well.
“Today I felt I hit lots of great iron shots. I’m curious to check the stats and see the shots gained, but I really hit them close as well. So that was clearly the biggest difference.”
Cabrera Bello was joined on eight under by Aaron Wise and Doc Redman, while former world No 1 Donald enjoyed his best round for some time as he looks to get his career back on track after 11 missed cuts in his last 12 starts.
Donald, Garcia, Ireland’s Seamus Power, and Garcia’s 2018 Ryder Cup team-mate Alex Noren all handed in 65s, with Harrington emulating Donald’s feat of hitting all 18 greens in regulation in his 66 which featured an eagle at the 18th from similar range to Spieth.
Hideki Matsuyama’s first competitive round as Masters champion was a solid five-birdie 68, the same score as Jon Rahm, while Brooks Koepka needed a birdie at the last to break par as he left himself with a battle just to make the weekend.
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