England’s Justin Rose just needed to get his bearings in the opening round of the 2021 Masters, shaking off a slow start with a memorable back nine to grab the lead with a 7-under 65 on Thursday at Augusta, Ga.
Playing on lightning-fast greens, Rose finished the day at Augusta National with a four-shot lead over Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
It is the fourth time Rose has held the 18-hole lead at the Masters, tying Jack Nicklaus’ record. He just missed the record for largest lead after one round set by Craig Wood when he was five shots in front after 18 holes in 1941.
“Decent,” Rose joked on the ESPN broadcast when asked to assess the round. “I didn’t know where my game was coming into this week. I had a month off and hadn’t played competitive golf for a good four weeks.”
Part of the reason for Rose’s downtime was a back injury that forced him to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March.
He said he could have returned two weekends ago but elected to dial in his game for Augusta National.
Sitting five shots behind Rose in a tie for fourth place at 2 under was a group of four that included South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Will Zalatoris, Webb Simpson and 2018 champion Patrick Reed.
Assigned a late tee time, perhaps it was the anticipation of getting the first major of 2021 underway that led Rose to two bogeys over his first seven holes. His reversal of fortune started with an eagle 3 at the par-5 eighth hole.
From there, Rose scorched the legendary course with seven birdies over his last 10 holes as he began his hunt for a second major title. The winner of the 2013 U.S. Open has come close to winning the Masters twice, finishing in second place in both 2015 and 2017, the latter when he lost to Sergio Garcia in a playoff.
In addition to a birdie at the ninth hole, Rose was a shot better than par at Nos. 10, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17. It made his two-putt par at 18 pedestrian by comparison.
“Listen, I’ve had great experiences here and I’ve had heartache as well,” Rose said. “There is a long way to go to even get into the final group (Sunday). But even if I haven’t got an arm in the (winner’s green) jacket, I feel like I have been right there to see what it is all about. So hopefully I can draw on that.”
Rose’s 65 was his best score ever at Augusta National and was two shots off Greg Norman’s first-round Masters record set in 1996.
Harman, who qualified for the Masters just two weeks ago based on his world ranking, also used a solid back nine to charge into second place. After an even-par front, he was 3 under on the back with birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 18.
“I’m happy with where my short game is; it’s something I always neglected,” said Harman, who is not known as one of the longer hitters in the game. “I just kind of took it for granted. It’s something that I can’t afford to be average. It’s got to be really good for me to contend.”
Matsuyama did most of his damage on the front nine with a birdie at No. 2 and an eagle 3 at No. 8. He was at 4 under until a bogey at No. 17.
“It’s my 10th year (at the Masters), but I’ve never seen the greens so firm and fast,” Matsuyama said. “So it was like a new course for me playing today, and I was fortunate to get it around well.”
Dustin Johnson, who won the delayed 2020 Masters in November, stumbled to a 2-over-par 74 that closed with a bogey at No. 16 and double-bogey 6 at the final hole. He is tied for 30th place.
Defending U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau was not able to take advantage of his long-hitting ways in the opening round. Often long with his short irons, DeChambeau was at 4 over and in a tie for 60th place.
PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa was tied for 20th place after a 1-over 71. Ireland’s Shane Lowry, the most recent Open Championship winner in 2019, was tied for eighth place after a 1-under 71.
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters winner, who also won last week at the Valero Texas Open, scrambled to his own 1-under 71 despite a triple-bogey 7 at the ninth hole.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood delivered the 23rd hole-in-one in Masters history with an ace at the 170-yard par-3 16th hole, but only managed to shoot a 2-over 74. Two-time winner Bubba Watson (2012, 2014) also shot 2 over to put him in the group in 30th place.
–Field Level Media