Duo grabs early edge at Masters

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Defending champion Jordan Spieth came firing out of the blocks during the opening round of action at Augusta.

Bernd Wiesberger sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the seventh hole to reach 2-under-par and grab a share of the early lead in yesterday's first round of the 80th Masters at the Augusta National in Georgia.

Zach Johnson, who won the green jacket in 2007 and added another major title at last year's British Open, rolled in two straight birdies to join the Austrian in the top spot. The second of those was especially impressive, after Johnson overshot the green with his approach shot at No. 7. He rolled in a treacherous downhill putt off the fringe to push his score to 2-under par.

Wiesberger, who shared 22nd last year in his Masters debut after an opening 75, and Johnson owned a one-stroke edge on a host of rivals that included 66-year-old Tom Watson, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, Victor Dubuisson of France and Englishmen Lee Westwood and Paul Casey.

Some favorites with early birdies on the front nine included defending champion Jordan Spieth, fellow American Rickie Fowler and South African Louis Oosthuizen.

Spieth got the defense of his Masters crown off to a steady start.

Seeking to become just the fourth player — after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods — to win back-to-back titles, the 22-year-old Texan pushed his approach to the first off to the right of the green.

But a beautiful chip from a difficult position left him with a tap-in putt for par and he stayed at level par through two holes.

Spieth is part of a trio of new generation favorites alongside Jason Day and Rory McIlroy who were under threat from a bunch of hardened former champions

First man out was, Jim Herman, a 38-year-old journeyman who won his first tournament in 106 tries at the Houston Open on Sunday to punch the last ticket into the first of the year's four majors.

The American enjoyed his moment in the spotlight as the first competitor to tee off shortly after Masters legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player performed their roles as honorary starters.

Herman birdied the first two holes, but then bogeyed three holes in a row from the fourth.

Playing conditions were ideal after heavy overnight rain had softened the fairways and greens, although the breeze was expected to stiffen for the late starters.

Spieth set out at 9:48am in the company of Casey and rising young US amateur Bryson DeChambeau.

The American won by four strokes last year with a record-matching 18-under total and two months later he added the US Open crown.

World No. 1 Day of Australia, looking to win back-to-back majors after his PGA Championship triumph in August, had an afternoon tee-time at 1:06pm, playing with Matt Kuchar of the United States and South African veteran Ernie Els.

Northern Ireland's McIlroy, making his second bid at becoming just the sixth player to win all four majors, is the last man out at 2:01pm with Ryder Cup teammate Martin Kaymer of Germany and local Bill Haas.

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