Spieth was bemused by the reaction. “I guess everybody else felt maybe more than I did on it,” he said.
The exorcism was complete. At that point, Spieth was even par for the day. He figured the worst was behind him, which of course is when Augusta National is at its most menacing.
On the 530-yard, par-5 15th, Spieth took an aggressive line for his third shot. His ball spun off the green and rolled into the water hazard. His next shot landed over the green. After a tricky chip, he three-putted for a quadruple-bogey 9, and all the work he had done to get into red numbers was undone.
After signing for a three-over 75, his worst score in 13 tournament rounds at Augusta National, Spieth did not blame the wind or the cold or the golf gods. He chastised himself.
Addressing No. 15, Spieth said: “You think of it as a birdie hole, obviously, being a par 5. And, unfortunately, I still thought of it as a birdie hole today, and it really isn’t when you lay up. So I didn’t take my medicine and hit it about 15 feet right with a club that takes the spin off. Instead I was struck with a 15-is-a-birdie-hole mentality, and it kind of bit me a little bit.”
Spieth said the approach was well struck, but he had used the wrong wedge. So he adjusted accordingly on the next shot and then didn’t get the same wind. “I obviously wasn’t going to hit it in the water again, so it just went over, and from there it’s very difficult.”
But other than that, Mr. Spieth, how did you enjoy the round?
“I think I learned a lot about the golf course today and the expectation for where to take advantage and where not to,” said Spieth, who was 10 shots behind Charley Hoffman, who posted a 65.
Mark O’Meara, who has 37 years and 29 Masters appearances on the 23-year-old Spieth, also took one club too many on his approach at No. 15 and flew the green. The difference was that he salvaged a bogey. His experience helped him avoid a bigger number. When told about Spieth’s 9, O’Meara said, “Did he spin it into the water?”
Upon hearing the answer, O’Meara nodded sympathetically. “I tried not to do that,” he said, “and I made bogey.”
Spieth is nothing if not resilient. He birdied the par-3 16th and made a 20-foot putt to save par at 18. One of the players with whom Spieth was grouped, Matthew Fitzpatrick, spent most of the round near the early lead before struggling to a double-bogey 6 on the final hole to finish with a 71. Fitzpatrick, 22, was decked out in the same blue sweater and white pants as Spieth, he looked like his mini-me.
Fitzpatrick described playing alongside Spieth as “fantastic” and said, “I would probably be bold enough to say he is probably America’s favorite golfer, so it was fantastic to play with crowds like that.”
The past two years, Spieth, the 2015 champion, has been leading after the first round. If he is going to win a second green jacket this year, he will have to come from behind. Which is fine, he said, noting that he just needs to stay patient for one more windswept round to get to the weekend, which is expected to deliver perfect conditions.
“We’re still in the tournament,” he said, adding, “It looks like something like single digits might win this tournament, and I certainly can post single-digit under par at this point.”
In the lead-up to this week, Spieth spoke wearily of how he would be glad to have this year’s tournament behind him so he no longer has to answer questions about his 12th hole implosion in the final round in 2016. By parring the hole on a day when 27 of the 94 golfers in the field recorded bogey or worse, Spieth signaled that he has moved on.