116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AUGUSTA, Ga. - We in Eastern Iowa knew Jordan Spieth when he was just a kid.
Back when Spieth was two weeks from turning 20, he won the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities over Cedar Rapids' Zach Johnson and Canada's David Hearn on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff. He became the PGA Tour's youngest tournament-winner since 1931.
That was all the way back in … July 2013.
Spieth showed up at his first Masters a year ago, and was so intimidated that he led after the third round before tying for second place. Three months after that, he helped provide serious star power to Johnson's annual fundraising gala and golf event in Cedar Rapids.
Thursday, at the mature age of 21, Spieth flirted with Augusta National's course-record before finishing one shot shy of that with an 8-under-par 64 for a 3-shot first-round lead at this year's Masters. That, after he finished first, second and second in his last three PGA Tour starts.
After finishing his own first-round with an even-par 72, Johnson was asked how Spieth could be this good, this young.
'This game is a game of confidence and momentum,” Johnson said, 'and he's got both. Combine that with talent, I'd say raw, young talent, and it's a pretty lethal combination.
'And, he's a great kid. A fierce competitor. Good head, good family.”
Spieth's 64 was one shot shy of the course record held by Nick Price (1986) and Greg Norman (1996).
No one in golf's history has shot a 62 in a major, and that covers 155 years.
'I wasn't aware what the course record was here,” Spieth said at his post-round press conference, 'let alone that it actually would have been the lowest round in major championship history. So that's a little frustrating.
'But I'm certainly OK with the day,” he added, inducing laughter from the media corps.
Here's the frightening part if you're among the rest of the field: 'I didn't drive the ball particularly well,” Spieth said. 'Didn't strike the ball great.”
For a little while Thursday, a somewhat-older fellow wrested the lead from Spieth. Ernie Els, 45, was in Johnson's threesome along with Jim Furyk (and will be again today at 7:40 a.m., Central time), and looked like the World Golf Hall of Famer that he is.
Els eagled No. 15 to get to 6-under and hop over Spieth before the kid made consecutive birdies on 12 through 14 to retake the lead. Only a three-putt bogey on the final hole marred Els' round, and he's tied with three others in second place at 67.
'His short game was tremendous, his putter was tremendous,” said Johnson.
'He's a world-class player. His rhythm is pretty fantastic, still.”
Els has been second here twice, but not since 2004 when Phil Mickelson made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to defeat Els by a stroke.
'I was trying to wipe it under the carpet that I wanted this one so badly for so many years,” Els said.
Definitely, there was something going on. Kind of, you get fed up with yourself. Never with Augusta, you know, but yourself with the mistakes that you make.”
These guys are the best in the world at what they do, but no matter what they've won, they've all been humbled to degrees. Horror of horrors, Spieth had the third-round lead at Houston last weekend only to lose in a playoff to J.B. Holmes on Sunday.
He fires a 64 Thursday and has people even more ready to anoint him a true-blue superstar.
'You just cannot see this kid not win many, many majors,” Els said. 'I think he is by far the most balanced kid I've seen.”
Thursday's Wall Street Journal had a story with the headline 'What Golf Needs: A Rival for Rory.” Rory McIlroy, who had a 71 Thursday, won the last two majors of 2014 and has four overall at age 25.
'It's going to take a lot of special golf,” Spieth said here Tuesday. 'I'm not quite there yet.”
Oh, apologies to the good folks at the John Deere Classic, but Spieth made this declarative statement after Thursday's round:
'This place is the most special place in golf, and it's my favorite place in the world.”
At least the Deere was Spieth's first love.
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