By Ann Liguori
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (CBSNewYork) — Jordan Spieth continued where he left off after last year’s impressive performance at Augusta National.

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The defending champ carded a bogey-free, 6-under-par 66 during Thursday’s first round and made several outstanding par saves on his way to the lead at The Masters.

If you think the defending champ wasn’t in top form coming into this tournament, Spieth has no problem arguing the point.

“Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out why people think I’ve been struggling. We’ve finished in the Top 20 eight out of the last nine events. What am I supposed to do?” he said to laughter.

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Let’s just say that based on Spieth’s stellar 2015 season, we’ve come to expect a lot from the 22-year-old Texan. Since returning from Abu Dhabi and Singapore earlier this year, his best finish has been a tie for ninth in the WGC-Dell Match Play.

After winning the Hyundai Tourney, he finished tied for 21st at AT&T Pebble Beach, missed the cut at Northern Trust, finished tied for 17th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and finished with a share of 18th at The Valspar.

On Thursday, Spieth looked like the young man who stayed focused on his way to becoming the second-youngest Masters champ in history. He birdied holes 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 and 18, but most impressive were his par saves on 11, 12 and 16.

On the 11th, his tee shot landed in the straw on the right where tall pines don’t leave much room to navigate. Spieth said he hit “one of the best shots I’ve ever hit in tournament competition” when he took a 4-iron and smacked it through a narrow opening about 210 yards.

“I had a gap where it had to rise over a tree, under another branch and split,” explained Spieth. “I had maybe, you know, a quarter of this billboard to hit it into with a 4-iron and then hold it up.”

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Spieth said his caddie, Michael Greller, tried to talk him out of the shot.

“I knew the trajectory that was going to come off of my 4-iron and it was the right club for the distance,” Spieth said. “I thought that if it were to hit a couple of the pin needles, worst case, it knocks it down a little and it stays short. I didn’t have many options to punch out. It was going to take a pretty special shot to go low and at the green to get within a hundred yards of the green. And if I went out kind of sideways or punch-slice territory, I could have maybe gotten it to where I was 125 yards. So I liked the option and Michael didn’t, and I said, ‘Just trust me on this one.’ And he said, ‘All right.’

“I actually hit it a touch fat, but I knew that as long as it split that gap that it should be okay,” Spieth added. “It actually almost hit that ridge and went in the water … and I was laughing afterwards. That’s how kind of dumb the decision was, and pulled it off.”

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After the par save on 11, Spieth enjoyed the standing ovation he got from the patrons on the 12th.

“It was one of the coolest moments today. One of the coolest moments I’ve ever had here was walking up to that, because you always, I mean, that walk up to 12 tee, hopefully you’ve made par on 11, so you’re pretty happy,” Spieth said. “But just to kind of see everyone start to rise, it was really, really cool to kind of feel like you belong as the Masters champion. Not that I needed any more reason, but just the gallery recognizes that you have won here and that this is a special place to you, and that’s kind of what it felt like to me. I thought it was an awesome moment, and then I turned around and saw flipping winds into this tiny green. So that moment was short-lived.”

He then parred the 12th, birdied the 13 and closed out the round with another birdie.

As challenging as it was with the gusting winds, Spieth made it look routine.

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