Not even a month off could cool down Jordan Spieth.
Finding fairways, pulling off miraculous shots from the rough and rolling in bombs, Spieth grabbed a share of the early lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson with a long eagle on the final green.
Spieth’s 55-footer on the last gave him a 9-under 63, tied with J.J. Spaun, on a day when only about a dozen players shot over par at TPC Craig Ranch, which is hosting the event for the first time.
Even Spieth was curious how he’d play after four weeks away – and after not practicing for three weeks. After the Masters, he intended to take only two weeks off and return at the Valspar Championship, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and had to sit out another two weeks.
He entered the Nelson with three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a drought-busting victory in early April at the Valero Texas Open, but after the time off he was “looking to maybe knock a little bit of rust off that I didn’t think would necessarily be here.”
“I was a little surprised by picking right back up,” said Spieth, who was 4 under for his first six holes. “I had nerves on No. 1 like it’s the first shot of the season. So I was pretty nervous on the first tee and getting started. To make the birdie there was kind of cool. It’s almost like the nerves that you feel the first shot at a major, the Ryder Cup, and just to make a birdie there I thought gave me a lot of confidence to start out today.”
Spieth hit 15 greens and didn’t make a putt longer than 12 feet until he reached the last hole. On 18, a 552-yard par 5, he knocked his fairway wood to 55 feet for a long-distance eagle look. His putt climbed the ridge and drifted right at the last moment to drop for a closing eagle-3, igniting a roar from the partisan crowd surrounding the green.
That was just one of his highlights on Thursday: After finding a gnarly lie in the right rough on the par-5 12th, Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, implored Spieth to lay up to a good wedge distance for his third shot. Spieth insisted that he take on the risk, opening up the face of his hybrid and chasing his ball up onto the green, about 9 feet away for eagle. He two-putted for an easy birdie.
“Luckily just committed to the shot,” Spieth said. “I mean, if I bail out at all there it could be disastrous. I committed and said, ‘What do I have to lose? Let’s get this thing up there near the green and make birdie.’ It was a bonus to be the right distance.”
Spieth has been a fixture at his hometown event since he was a high schooler, but his tie for 16th as a 16-year-old amateur remains his best result in the Nelson.
Though Spieth is out front early, there are plenty of chasers in a week that could feature record scoring – 14 other players shot 65 or better on Day 1. He will have fresh greens to keep rolling in the morning, with a 8:23 a.m. ET start time.