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Jordan Spieth goes on birdie streak to take Masters lead with a 66; injured Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar are second

Ponder the absurdity of it all.

In front of thousands of people on the Augusta National grounds and millions more watching (and groaning) on television, Tony Finau dislocated his ankle and, in a rush of pure adrenaline, set it back in place in seconds Wednesday.

In that moment, he was equal parts embarrassed and devastated that he might have squashed his Masters debut with an exuberant celebration for a hole in one during the Par-3 Contest.

On Thursday, Finau taped the ankle heavily, set out on a long, hilly hike, and shocked even the kid inside him.

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“Nothing short of a miracle, if you ask me,” Finau said after he made six birdies in shooting a four-under-par 68 that put him tied for second with Matt Kuchar after the first round of the 82nd Masters.

They were two shots off the lead of a resurgent Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters winner who played late in the afternoon and made five straight birdies on the back nine for a 66.

Seven players were tied for fourth with 69s, including Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

Tiger Woods, playing in his first Masters in three years, shot 73 and was tied for 29th.

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But all are chasing Spieth, who hasn’t won this season, and had struggled at times with his putting. But he lived up to being the tournament favorite with a 66 powered by an eagle on the par-five eighth and five consecutive birdies from the 13th through 17th holes. At the 18th, Spieth made a critical bogey save with a deft pitch from the side of the green after he drove into the trees and had to chip out.

The opening round matched Spieth’s first here in 2016 (when he tied for second), but was two short of 2015, when he started with a 64 and won with an 18-under total that tied Woods’ tournament record.

“We build plans for the year to peak at certain times,” Spieth said. “And I believe that not just here at Augusta, but the major championships … I’ve played well, and I think that has to do with the work of our team.

“We’ve got a great plan, and then gearing myself up and getting psyched for them, and the right amount of confidence and composure it takes.”

Finau also showed composure as he was welcomed for the first time into the Augusta media interview room. Finau, a one-time winner in three-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, smiled broadly and good-naturedly recounted the previous 24 hours.

“I look at myself as a pretty mentally tough person,” Finau said, “and I think I showed that today in my round — just able to put my head down and just play.

“I felt like it was a tough morning to deal with, but when I knew I was going to play, I was pretty ecstatic and really pleased with the way I played.”

He admitted he had a restless night, with the video footage of the injury running in a loop in his head. If it hadn’t been him, he said he would have been the first to laugh at it.

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Jordan Spieth tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday.
(Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal Constitution )

“It’s quite funny,” Finau said with a grin. “I just rolled my ankle celebrating a hole in one. You can’t make that up.”

He suffered a bogey on the first hole, but there’d be only one more on the day. He made six birdies, including on all of the par-fives.

Ranked No. 1 on tour this season in driving distance at 321.1 yards, Finau can overpower golf courses, and he felt strongly about his chances at Augusta, which has been kind to other big hitters such as two-time winner Bubba Watson.

“I don’t mind being labeled a bomber,” Finau said. “It’s a good thing to be known and have a strong part of your game. And length helps me everywhere, especially here at Augusta.

“But you have to have touch and you have to have good putting skills, and I feel like those are things I’ve been able to sharpen throughout my career.”

sports@latimes.com


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