Augusta - Jordan Spieth was the early pace-setter at the 80th Masters on Thursday as the 22-year-old American set off to defend the crown he won in record-matching fashion last year.
Seeking to become just the fourth player -- after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods -- to win back-to-back titles at Augusta National, the 22-year-old Texan birdied the third, sixth and eighth to get to three-under approaching the turn.
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.
At two-under as the early starters headed down the back nine was American Daniel Berger, who was celebrating his 23th birthday, and Spieth's playing partner, Paul Casey of England.
Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, Lee Westwood of England, Thai veteran Thonchai Jaidee, 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson were all at one under.
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 par total and two months later he added the US Open crown.
World number one Day, looking to win back-to-back majors after his PGA Championship triumph in August, has an afternoon tee-time at 1:06pm, playing with Matt Kuchar and South African veteran Ernie Els.
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 and Bill Haas.
Not an ideal spot to be, in but the Northern Irishman said he will take it in his stride.
"I think it's the third year in a row I've been off last either Thursday or Friday here. I was sort of expecting it," he said with a shrug.
Golf legend Tom Watson, playing in his 43rd and final Masters at the age of 66, was one under through six holes before dropping a shot at the tough seventh.
Three-time former winner Phil Mickelson bogeyed his opening hole as did 2013 winner Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.
The big Swede though bounced back with birdies and the second and fourth to get into red figures. England's Justin Rose was also one under after three holes.