Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods dominated the build-up to this week's Masters but it was exciting American Jordan Spieth who produced the fireworks in a gripping opening round at Augusta National.

Spieth, the hottest player in the game over the past six months, raised hopes of shooting the first ever 62 at a major championship before he ran out of steam over the closing stretch to fire an eight-under-par 64.

The 21-year-old recorded his only bogey of the day at the par-five 15th, where he overshot the green with his third shot, but signed off in style by draining a 20-footer to birdie the last.

"I'm very pleased, it was nice to get off to a good start," said Spieth, who birdied four of his first nine holes on a receptive, rain-softened layout at Augusta National to race to the turn in four-under 32.

"The course was as gettable as I think it will be this week today. To make nine birdies out here, you know, that's a dreamy round for me. It was a lot of fun."

Spieth finished three shots in front of American Charley Hoffman, 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose of England, four-time major winner Ernie Els of South Africa and Australian Jason Day on a top-notch leaderboard.

World number one McIlroy, in pursuit of a rare career grand slam of the four majors, hit a couple of poor chip shots on his front nine on the way to a 71 that left him seven strokes off the pace.

Four-times champion Woods, who shares the brightest glare of the spotlight with McIlroy this week on his much anticipated return from a two-month hiatus while reworking his swing, often struggled off the tee as he opened with a 73.

Graeme McDowell matched McIlroy's opening 71 to post an under-par first round, while Padraig Harrington dropped a couple of late shots to post a level-par 72.

Former Open champion Darren Clarke posted two over, while Shane Lowry was a shot further back on his maiden appearance at the Masters.