AUGUSTA, Ga. — They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday, but Justin Rose made sure his Masters got started on the back nine on Thursday. With six birdies across the final nine holes of his first round, as well as an eagle on No. 8, Rose put himself way out in front of the pack, his 7-under round four shots clear of nearest competitors Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.
“So obviously the eagle, boom, straight back in there, and I guess almost just piggy-backing with a birdie straightaway at No. 9, suddenly I turned in 1 under, and I could feel like I could actually leave the front nine behind as a job well done and kind of move to the back nine and try and build a score,” Rose said.
“From that point on I kind of was aware that the lead was only three, and if I played a decent back nine it was basically a very good day’s work. And then I just got on a great run and was just trying to stay out of my own way and just try to get it to the clubhouse and keep doing what I was doing.”
At 40, the 2013 US Open winner has battled injuries over the past few years, but looked comfortable and confident amid the dry, quick conditions Thursday. His fireworks were enough to tie him for the second-largest lead after one round in Masters history, behind only the five-shot lead Craig Wood had in 1941. Rose, who is also the defending Olympic gold medalist, has finished second twice at Augusta, in 2015 and 2017.
Now, he just has to stay consistent, not always easy when you want that green jacket so badly.
“That’s going to be the trick the rest of the week,” he said. “Hopefully you can just run off instinct a little bit. Obviously I’ve competed in these big tournaments quite a few times, and I’ve got one of them to my name, but we’re looking for more.
“But I’ve had some situations in my career that should stand me in good stead, but listen, I think to keep the expectations relatively low even in this situation is not a bad thing for me for the remainder of the week and just keep it one shot at a time, keep committing on this golf course, you can never get ahead of yourself on, we’ve seen it many times around here.”
Jordan Spieth entered the tournament as a favorite after rediscovering his form to win last week’s Valero Texas Open, but he seemed destined for a first-day disappearing act after a crazy ninth hole.
After an errant tee shot landed amid pine straw at a thicket of trees, Spieth’s attempt to blast his way out of trouble saw the ball ricochet off a tree and go 15 yards in the wrong direction. The former Masters champ would recover impressively well from that shot, landing his next ball just off the green, but one chip shot and three putts later, he’d carded a seven, putting him at 2 over through nine.
But Spieth wasn’t done. He would rebound to birdie No. 10 and eagle No. 15, leaving him well in striking distance at 1 under on the day. By the time it was over, all he could do was laugh, remove his cap and wave it to what was left of a pandemic-reduced, late afternoon crowd.
DJ’s off to slow start
Defending champion Dustin Johnson set a Masters scoring record when he won last November at 20 under. But Thursday, with the course playing hard and fast, Johnson turned in his first round over par at Augusta since 2018. With a double-bogey on 18 landing him at 2 over on the day, Johnson made his quest to match the back-to-back feat last accomplished by Tiger Woods (2001-02) decidedly more difficult.
“No additional pressure,” Johnson insisted afterward. “If anything, I’m a little more relaxed out there. Today, like I said, it just played tough. I felt like I played pretty well too, or got it around pretty well. Obviously, the last hole kind of stings a little bit. But go to the range, hit a few balls. I feel like I’m swinging well, playing good. Looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Hole in one
Tommy Fleetwood had the shot of the day on No. 16, sending a beautiful tee ball over the water and onto the green, where it took three bounces and rolled right to the cup. Fleetwood, who didn’t manage even a birdie on any other hole, finished 2 over par.
“It was a lovely looking shot,” the Englishman said. “It was in between clubs. I was sort of verging on a smooth 8, then I said hard 9. That kind of fit the shot a bit more. Stood up and hit 9 … it’s very special. Doing it at a major is great, doing it competitively is great, but at Augusta is probably just another edge.”
It was the same hole both Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau aced in 2019, and the same one that saw three golfers do it in 2016 — Shane Lowry, Davis Love III and Louis Oosthuizen.
Watch out Mr. McIlroy
Rory McIlroy’s errant second shot on the par-4 seventh hole could have used a ‘Fore!’ And McIlroy’s father Gerry could have benefited from hearing it. Instead, as McIlroy was on the way to his third straight bogey during Thursday’s first round, he pelted his father on the left leg.
“In fairness I was trying to turn it off. It was a perfect shot; it was dead straight,” McIlroy said after 4-over 76. “But I think he was OK. He didn’t limp away. He walked away pretty swiftly, so that was all right.”
Bowing to tradition that golfers often sign a piece of memorabilia when they hit a fan, McIlroy, secure in the knowledge his dad was fine, quipped, “maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”
Abraham Ancer unknowingly touched the sand with his club before taking his third stroke from the greenside bunker at the par-5 15th hole.
He was assessed a two-stroke penalty, bumping his score on the hole from a 6 to a triple-bogey 8. His overall score increased to 3-over 75, leaving him 10 shots behind Rose.
Ancer had signed his scorecard and exited the scoring area when the Augusta National committee reviewed video evidence of the incident.
“The touching of the sand was deemed visible to the naked eye,” officials said in a statement. “Had this not been the case, the video evidence would have been disregarded and a penalty would not have been applied.”