09 April 2021: A sore back sent Justin Rose into hibernation hours ahead of his tee time at THE PLAYERS Championship a month ago. The downtime to mend his back also afforded Rose an opportunity to work on his game. The results seem to be spectacular. The seasoned Englishman, a veteran of many rounds, improved his personal best at Augusta National by two strokes despite a tardy start in the opening round of the 85th Masters Tournament. Bogeys at the first and seventh threatened to derail the 40-year-old. But he bounced back with an eagle on the eighth and never quite looked back from there to produce a thrilling 65 under windy conditions. Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman shot 69 to share the second spot.
First timer Will Zalatoris showed no signs of inexperience playing out a steady 70 to lie in fourth with Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson. The resurgent Jordan Spieth, who has sprung anew this year, ended his lengthy drought with victory in Texas Open last week. He mixed a triple bogey and an eagle to make 71. Si Woo Kim, Jason Kokrak, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton also made 71.
Rose drove it 304 yards off the eighth tee, before flying another 273 yards with his approach to the green. The key there was a nice bounce off the mound to the left of the green, the ball rolling towards the pin, leaving Rose just nine feet for an eagle.
“I knew 2-over through 7 is not the end of the world, but also knew I was going in the wrong direction,” said Rose. “You can’t win the golf tournament today. Even with a 65 you can’t win it today. You can only probably lose it today. I didn’t hit the panic button yet and thought if I could get myself back around even par, that would be a good day’s work.”
“The eagle, boom, and then a birdie straight away at No. 9,” he added. “I felt I could leave the front nine behind as a job well done and move to the back nine and try to build a score. I got on a great run and was just trying to stay out of my way and get it to the Clubhouse.”
The breeze punished errant drives and hesitant irons, but the real punishment came on the greens. Baked in the sunny spring of Georgia, they were playing firm and fast, tricking the players into conceding strokes without the slightest remorse. There was nothing tricky though about the manner in which Abraham Ancer ended up losing a couple of strokes.
Matsuyama was in Texas when Tsubasa Kajitani showed remarkable poise to clinch the ANWA Championship in a playoff against Emilia Migliaccio. He was impressed and inspired by her success last week. “What she did was fantastic. I wish I could have seen it. I was playing down in Texas, so I wasn’t able to see her play, but hat’s off to her. Hopefully, I can follow in her footsteps and make Japan proud,” said Matsuyama.
After a positive start, Matsuyama is hoping to emulate his teenaged compatriot and produce some of his own magic in the Masters. He too began his journey here as an amateur, placing T27 on his debut exactly a decade ago. Matsuyama was fifth in 2015, his best finish at the Masters. He has two top tens and three top twenty finishes, including the T13 last November.
“The greens were firm and fast. It was very important to hit your second shot on the proper side of the pin, and I was able to do that. I felt very good about my round today.”
Much like Spieth, Matsuyama, a five-time winner on the PGA TOUR hasn’t tasted success since 2017. A victory this week could make him the first Asian to don the Green Jacket.
Ancer was penalised two strokes well after he turned in his card of 73. The tournament headquarters reviewed video evidence to confirm that his wedge had grazed the sand ever so slightly before he made his shot off the bunker in the 15th. That pushed him to a painful 75.
Only 19 golfers managed to stay even or better on day one of the Masters. In November, as many as nine golfers made 67 or better when the Masters was played in an unusual autumn slot on the calendar. There were 24 scores under 70 five months ago, this time there were just three men who managed to do that.
Dustin Johnson may have expected an easier welcome as the defending champion. But after struggling to stay even through 17 with plenty of grit, the course extracted a double from the champion on the 18th to slip him to 74. In his 13th appearance at the Masters, Rory McIlroy endured another painful round, this time a 76.
Justin Rose 65 (-7)
Brian Harman 69 (-3)
Hideki Matsuyama 69 (-3)
Will Zalatoris 70 (-2)
Webb Simpson 70 (-2)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout 70 (-2)
Patrick Reed 70 (-2)
Information Cubes – PGA TOUR
Justin Rose ties Jack Nicklaus for the most first-round leads/co-leads in Masters Tournament history
With a 7-under 65, Rose cards his best score in 59 rounds at the Masters
Rose’s four-shot cushion equals the second largest first-round lead at the Masters
Rose holds his 19th first-round lead/co-lead on the PGA TOUR (2-for-18 to date; 0-for-4 in major championships)
2015 champion Jordan Spieth rallies from a triple bogey on the par-4 ninth hole for a 1-under 71
Hideki Matsuyama cards his eighth consecutive par-or-better score at the Masters
Entering the week with top-five finishes in his previous two starts on TOUR, Brian Harman opens with a 69
Tommy Fleetwood records the 23rd ace on No. 16; marks his first ace in an individual stroke-play event on TOUR
2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed birdies No. 16 for the sixth straight time en route to a 70
Defending champion and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson posts a 74, including a double bogey on the final hole
First-round scoring comparisons: average (2020/71.413, 2021/74.523), under-par scores (2020/53, 2021/12), scores in the 60s (2020/24, 2021/3)