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US Masters golf starts with Jordan Spieth back in the lead

Defending champion Jordan Spieth has started the US Masters at Augusta National where he left off last year - on top of the leader board. Windy conditions troubled a number of players in the first round.

The young American from Texas, reigning champion Jordan Spieth, finished his first round at the 80th edition of the Masters on a six-under-par, 66, at Augusta National on Thursday. Spieth is aiming to become the first repeat winner since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002.

Spieth finished the round ahead of challengers Danny Lee and Shane Lowry who both carded 68. A group of five, including UK players Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and Spain's Sergio Garcia finished their first rounds on three under par. A group of four players, including Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy - ranked third in the world - who finished a further shot off the lead going into Friday's second round.

"I would have signed for two-under today and not even played the round, knowing the conditions that were coming up," the 22-year-old Spieth said after his round. He is aiming to emulate Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods with consecutive Green Jackets as winner of the first major golf championship of the year.

"Got a lot out of the round with what I felt like was kind of average-ish ball striking. Just scored the ball extremely well, which is something I've been struggling with this season," Spieth said. "I put it up there with one of the best rounds I've played, one of the best rounds I've scored," he added.

His playing partner for the day, Englishman Paul Casey, was impressed by Spieth's round: "That was a flawless round of golf," said Casey, who shot a 69 on an increasingly blustery day. "One of the toughest days I've ever seen around Augusta National," he commented.

Other scores

The world's top-ranked player Jason Day was closing in on Spieth after a 31 on the front nine, just two shots off the lead at four-under. But Day started the back nine with a bogey, then went bogey-triple bogey-bogey on 15, 16 and 17 and went to the clubhouse at even-par.

Former world number one Ernie Els made a nightmare start like no one has ever done before him - six-putting from just two feet at the par-four first hole for a quintuple-bogey 9. "I can't explain it," Els said. He went on to shoot an 8-over 80 that matched his highest score ever at Augusta National and left him 14 shots behind leader Spieth. "You're not able to do what you normally do. It's unexplainable," he added.

Notable rounds came from veterans Bernhard Langer, who came in at even par, and Tom Watson, who finished two over after the first round of his final major. Winner in 1977 and 1981, Watson reported a penalty on himself on the seventh green, when, a split second after he addressed a 2-footer with his putter, he said he - rather than the wind - caused the ball to move, resulting in a one-shot penalty. But he expressed satisfaction in his round: "Seventy-four is not bad for old folks," Watson said.

jm/jar(Reuters, AP)

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