Step aside Bryson DeChambeau. Should Justin Rose press home the strong advantage claimed late in the first day of this, the 85th Masters, the Englishman could start quite the golfing trend. In contrast to DeChambeau, this relates to psychology rather than gadgets and gouging.
Rose chose not to return to the PGA Tour in the five weeks before the first major of the year, despite a back problem having recovered sufficiently for him to do so. Instead, Rose spent hour upon hour sitting in the trophy room of his home “playing” Augusta National in his mind.
Rose visualised every shot and every outcome, later joking that the process could be dangerous for someone whose brain won’t let them score better than 74. Rose has no such worries; this 65 – beating his previous Augusta best by two – opened up a four-shot lead over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama. This marks the sixth time Rose has led or co-led at the conclusion of a Masters round. And yet, thus far, a Green Jacket has eluded him.
“I’ve had some situations in my career that should stand me in good stead,” Rose said of an upcoming 54 holes. “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. Just keep it one shot at a time, keep committing on this golf course. You can never get ahead of yourself, we’ve seen it many times around here.”
It seems no coincidence when assessing Rose’s prominence that Thursday in Georgia witnessed the most attritional of majors. Rose has won in this movie before, at the Merion US Open of 2013. In a golfing sense, he is partial to a scrap. Rose is also entitled to feel Augusta owes him one, after the play-off defeat to Sergio García in 2017.
To say Rose’s afternoon was something of a slow burner represents gross understatement. He dropped a shot at the 1st and was plus two when taking to the 8th tee. An eagle there triggered a superb run, including the playing of the back nine in just 30 strokes.
Harman and Matsuyama, who for so long looked like sharing the 18-hole lead, had cause to wonder what was happening. Nobody else in Rose’s afternoon wave scored better than 71.
Augusta delivered every inch of menace as had been predicted before a ball was struck in anger. Were this a US Open, it is no exaggeration to infer players would be lining up to whine about the level of brutality. The green jackets tend to receive far more favourable treatment. Brooks Koepka, who is not normally short of caustic comment, was among those to tiptoe through the tulips.
“There’s not much grass on a couple of those greens,” said Koepka after his 74. “On the back of 6 there’s no grass, and 9, I don’t know if there is grass.” García was a little more forthright. “I feel like I just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield, like a 12-round match,” said the Spaniard. “I need to go home and rest.”
Shane Lowry, playing in Rose’s company, birdied the last for a hard-fought 71. Patrick Reed’s 70 was notable given his previous success here. “I just love a challenge,” Reed said. “I love having your back up against the wall and you having to go and produce, try to do something. I love just the satisfaction of pulling off crazy golf shots or the tough up and downs and things like that.
“When you get around a place like this, you have to use that creativity. You have to hit different golf shots. It’s just not just a basic chip, ever, around here.”
Will Zalatoris, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Webb Simpson are alongside the 2018 champion. Dustin Johnson was level par before a horrible double bogey on the last, which hardly helps his quest to successfully defend the Masters in short order. Jon Rahm, fresh from the weekend birth of his first child, signed for a 72. Tyrrell Hatton, quietly fancied by many for this event, is minus one.
DeChambeau was to toil during a 76. So too, and surprisingly, did Lee Westwood when en route to a 78. Ian Woosnam’s 76 was remarkable given the Welshman described “playing on one leg” due to a groin injury. Woosnam considered walking in after 11 holes. Woosnam matched the scores of García, Danny Willett and Rory McIlroy. The 1991 champion outperformed Jason Day by one.
Tommy Fleetwood’s afternoon didn’t look like yielding much at all until a moment for the ages. The Southport man, who was four over par at the time, watched his ball roll in for an ace at the 16th. This marked just the 32nd hole in one in Masters history. Fleetwood’s prize? A large crystal bowl and a story for the grandkids.
The day had opened with a key moment in Augusta’s history. Lee Elder, the first black man to compete here, joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for ceremonial tee shot duties. “Having Lee there was the right thing to do,” said Nicklaus. If that much is true, waiting until Elder was 86 years of age told a grim story of its own.