At the Masters, Justin Rose Is an Outlier, and Establishes an Early Lead

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A golf course doesn’t have emotions.

Or does it?

It could be the best strategy to clarify the revenge Augusta National Golf Club exacted on the area in the first spherical of the Masters match on Thursday, after the course was routed by a lot of the identical gamers final yr.

Five months in the past in November, a month when Augusta National is often simply waking from an excellent slumber, the world’s greatest golfers arrived to play the 2020 Masters, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The course was somnolent and unprepared, particularly because it bought good and sloshed by rain the evening earlier than the occasion started.

Golf’s elite took no pity on the venerable, if susceptible, aristocrat of main championship golf programs. Dustin Johnson’s profitable rating of 20 underneath par was a match file, and 43 gamers completed the occasion underneath par.

Apparently, Augusta National has an excellent reminiscence. In the first spherical of the 2021 Masters, the course was roused, prepared and itching for retaliation.

When the final shot was struck on Thursday, Justin Rose was the outlier with a glowing seven-under-par 65, which included six birdies on the again 9. That rating put him in the lead, 4 strokes forward of Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama who have been tied for second after matching scores of 69.

But solely 11 different gamers have been underneath par, and Rose, Harman and Matsuyama have been the solely golfers breaking 70. Contrast that with the first spherical in 2020, when a match file 24 gamers scored in the 60s and a whopping 53 have been underneath par.

Perhaps the area ought to have been forewarned on Tuesday when Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion enjoying in his 36th Masters, mentioned the Augusta National circumstances have been the most tough he had seen in many years. Asked about the greens, which have been drying out all week, Couples mentioned, “If they get any firmer, look out.”

The prophecy, aided by swirling winds, got here to life on Thursday round the grounds. Jordan Spieth, a former Masters winner, was on a run up the chief board at the midpoint of his spherical till an errant tee shot on the par-Four ninth gap, adopted by a restoration shot that ricocheted off a tree, ultimately led to a three-putt and a garish triple bogey. Spieth rallied with an eagle on the 15th gap and consecutive birdies on the 16th and 17th holes, to complete with a one-under-par 71, which left him tied for eighth.

Rory McIlroy, who needs a Masters title to complete the career Grand Slam of all four major golf championships, shot an eventful four-over-par 76. McIlroy not only had six bogeys, he also plunked his father, Gerry, in the back of the leg with a wayward second shot on the seventh hole.

The elder McIlroy appeared to be fine, walking away after his son’s golf ball caromed off him. Afterward, McIlroy said he was aiming at his father because he was standing in a good spot. Gerry McIlroy later joked that he wanted an autograph from Rory, which is a customary thing for a player to give a fan who is struck by a shot.

“I think he just needs to go and put some ice on,” Rory said, referring to his father with a grin. “Maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”

Rose opened his round with a one-under-par 35 on the front nine but then blitzed the closing holes with birdies on the 10th and 12th holes, two of Augusta National’s biggest challenges. Rose birdied both par 5s on the back nine, as well as the par-3 16th and daunting par-4 17th hole.

His performance was especially impressive because he had not played a competitive round of golf in a month, having withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March with a back injury. In the end, the layoff may have been beneficial in a variety of ways. For one, it lowered Rose’s expectations for the Masters, something he acknowledged on Thursday evening.

“You can just run off instinct a little bit,” Rose, the 2013 United States Open champion, said. “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.”

He also used the time off to spend more time working with his old swing coach Sean Foley, who Rose reunited with late last year. The two first began working together in 2009 and had a brief, recent separation, which is common in the golf world.

“Everything I’ve achieved in the game of golf I’ve done it with Sean by my side,” Rose said, adding: “I was tailing off a little bit with my own game through 2019, and I think the lockdown, just being left to my own devices for a little bit too long was probably not a good thing.

“So it’s great to be back with Sean, and I trust him implicitly. He knows what works for me and my game.”

Four players were five strokes behind Rose at two under par: Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, both former major champions, and Will Zalatoris and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

“With how difficult it was out there today, with how firm and fast this place played, and the wind picking up,” Reed said. “I’ll definitely take a round of two under par. ”

Simpson echoed Reed’s sentiments.

“Guys are going to shoot themselves out of the golf tournament on Day 1 in these conditions,” he said. “I knew it would be tough today, but I didn’t know we’d be dealing with gusty winds like we were. So I’m very happy with my score.

“I think it’s been five years at least from last time I remember it being this firm, this rough. But it’s fun, too. This golf course is more fun this way because you really have to think, you really have to use the slopes. Otherwise, you can put yourself in some really bad spots.”

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