All eyes were on Tiger Woods as he returned to the golf course, but it was one of the young pretenders to his long-slipped crown who shone brightest on the opening day of the Masters.
Jordan Spieth, who tied for second at Augusta last year, scorched the famed course with an eight-under-par 64 in Thursday’s first round.
The 21-year-old American fired eight birdies in 14 holes before giving one back at the par-five 15th, but took the clubhouse lead in the season’s opening major championship as he regained a shot with a sumptuous putt at the last.
It put him three strokes clear of Jason Day, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and Charley Hoffman.
Woods was nine adrift of Spieth after a scrappy 73, as he battled for form on his much-anticipated return from injury.
The 14-time major winner, who donned the fourth of his coveted green Masters jackets a decade ago, struggled with some wayward tee shots on the unforgiving fairways.
But the 39-year-old could take some solace in the revival of his imperious short game — which had apparently fallen to pieces in his few appearances on tour this year as he revamped his swing and battled back problems.
Woods made some remarkable recoveries, notably on the 12th when he limited the damage to a bogey-four after hitting the water hazard.
Now ranked outside the top 100 rankings for the first time since 1996, the former world No. 1 started with a bogey but immediately reclaimed a birdie — and was up and down for the rest of his first round at Augusta since finishing fourth in 2013. He parred his last five holes to end the day tied for 41st on one-over 73.
“It was a good day,” said Woods, who was watched by his girlfriend, champion skier Lindsey Vonn.
“I just made a couple of dumb mistakes out there. We all struggled with the slow greens in our group, none of us were sure how hard to hit it.”
He said he had hit “thousands and thousands of shots” to get his game back in shape after taking two months off.
“It’s my strength again. That’s why I’ve busted my butt.”
Spieth, meanwhile, maintained the form that has given him a victory and two runner-up placings in his last three outings on the PGA Tour.
He was one shot away from matching Augusta’s course record, as he seeks to become the second-youngest golfer to win the Masters — Woods will keep that record, being 21 years and three months when he triumphed in 1997.
“I was excited about the way I struck the ball,” Spieth, who turns 22 in July, told reporters. “I’m excited about the start.
“To make nine birdies out here, that’s a dream round for me. It was a lot of fun.
“I played well last year, but I never broke 70.”
Day fired five birdies in a row to get to -6 by the 16th, but the Australian — who has two top-three finishes at Augusta in recent years — dropped a shot at 17.
Veteran South African Els — a four-time major winner and twice runner-up at the Masters — also reached six under but lost a shot at the last to be tied for second with 2013 U.S. Open champion Rose and American Hoffman, who hit 67 after earlier tee-offs.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia carded 68 to be tied for sixth with American Russell Henley, whose compatriots Bill Haas, Webb Simpson and Ryan Palmer were another shot back alongside England’s Paul Casey.
Veteran left-hander Phil Mickelson, seeking to join his old rival Woods on four Masters titles, was tied for 12th on two-under 70 in a group including fellow American Dustin Johnson and South Korea’s Seung-Yul Noh.
Defending champion Bubba Watson, seeking a third title in four years at Augusta, opened with a 71 that left him in a big group tied for 18th.
With him was world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, attempting to complete a full collection of major titles, and 65-year-old former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson — whose second Masters win was back in 1981.
“It was good to get into red numbers after day one,” McIlroy said. “I feel with the way I’m driving the ball, if I can keep doing that and just be a little more patient with my iron play and give myself more opportunities, I’ll hope to be right there at the end of the week.”