“Don’t Panic!” was the message from Day One of the 2021 Masters, which seemed to extracting full retribution for November’s indignities.
Justin Rose’s 65 leads by a full four shots from his nearest pursuer, but it was a pure outlier – a “flow state” by the former US Open champion with nine shots picked up in 11 holes after he reached the eighth tee at two-over.
There were birdies around the course to be had – more on the par fives – but the greens were so treacherous that every scorecard looked like a Picasso-worthy mess of squares and circles.
Favourites were possibly taken out of the tournament on Day One – Lee Westwood (78), the much fancied Korean Sungjae Im (77, mostly down to an epochal disaster of a 9 on 15), the hype of Bryson DeChambeau (76), the struggles of Rory McIlroy (76).
A rare blooming for Rose
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 9, 2021
Justin Rose has been a first round leader at Augusta three times before, but nothing quite like this.
“I knew two-over through seven’s not the end of the world, but obviously you’re going in the wrong direction,” said Rose. “It was just, reset, don’t push the panic button, if I can get myself around even par.
“Then boom! The eagle on eight and piggy-backed a birdie on nine, and from that point on I was aware the lead was just three-under. I just got on a great run, putted really well.
“If you’d told me on the eighth I’d lead at seven-under, I’d have said `no way, not on this course playing this tricky’. It’s a good reminder to stick with it no matter where you are out there.”
Rose made some questionable decisions after his 2017 near-miss at Augusta, ditching trusted equipment for new lucrative deals and changing coaches. In the past few months he restored almost everything he dropped, but he had no form at all coming in.
The last man to lead the Masters with a 65 and lead by four was Charley Hoffman in 2017 – the year Rose lost the play-off to Sergio Garcia. Hoffman shot 75 on the second day to lose all his advantage and eventually finished outside the top 20.
Hanging in there
This is the 5th time @JordanSpieth has opened the Masters with a score under par.
His previous 4 finishes:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 8, 2021
Most of the rest of the field other than Rose spent the day barely hanging on. Just two more players, American Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, dipped under 70.
Four-under looked like a dizzy height before the Englishman tore up the script, because everyone ended up slipping back down the slope.
Jordan Spieth, hugely fancied after his win in Texas last week, looked utterly undone by a seven clattering around in the trees at the 9th. But he didn’t waver and was three-under the rest of the way. A birdie at 10, and eagle at 15 and 71 is right in the hunt.
Similarly, England’s volatile Tyrrell Hatton looked to be steaming after going out in 38. But he bagged a bonus of a chip-in for birdie at 11, picked up three more on the back nine, and one-under was a decent return.
Patrick Reed (70), Shane Lowry (71) and Webb Simpson (70) also toughed it out and kept themselves in position. They’ve got to believe Rose will come back to the pack.
Two-over isn’t out of it yet…
Ever have one of those rounds of golf when you’re so frustrated at this stupid game for not giving you what you deserve? Then, just when you're about to lose it, you hit THE shot that makes you realise why you're so hopelessly in love with it! #themasters pic.twitter.com/2rtNDT5NVT
— Tommy Fleetwood (@TommyFleetwood1) April 8, 2021
Tommy Fleetwood made the jump from nowhere to a 74 largely due to his second hole-in-one in three weeks, this time at the short 16th.
Dustin Johnson, on a very different layout to where he shot an average of four 67s five months ago, right-angled a short putt at 18 for a double and a 74, but he’s not out of the picture.
Scottish duo Robert MacIntyre and Martin Laird are also on two-over. MacIntyre holed a 25-yard flop shot that looked like he was from Atlanta rather than Argyll for a three at 17, fighting back from four successive bogeys around the turn.
“I was in position Z for that flag,” he admitted. “I thought just go for the flop and it came off perfectly. It went straight up under the cap, and it was perfect the way it went in.”
“I wasn’t playing that bad. I was just on the wrong side of some holes and the greens started getting firm and fast. But we hung in and two-over isn’t a bad score.”
Bryson’s big hype flounders again
Bryson DeChambeau pulled his first two drives, hit his tee shot into shrubbery at the fourth and never recovered on his way to a dismal four-over-par 76 in the opening round at the Masters on Thursday. https://t.co/yz6F5C4Ulz
— Reuters Sports (@ReutersSports) April 9, 2021
Just as in November, the big-hitting DeChambeau bounded in Augusta with promises of ground-breaking new equipment – a new driver – and burning up the course. Once more, he spent more time in the bushes than is advisable at the Masters.
The fourth was where it started, blocking a simple tee shot into the bundai, and he took five there.
Seven fairways hit would not be an issue for Bryson most places with his strength, but at Augusta it’s rarely a good idea. A birdie at 15 – after a 350 yard drive – was his sole one of the day.
Does he switch his much-heralded strategy now? Probably not at this Masters, you’d think.
The Langer List
Every year at the Masters it’s illuminating to see how many contenders have been bettered by the evergreen twice-champion Bernhard Langer, now 63 and usually hitting a hybrid at best into most of the par fours.
Langer shot a two-over 74, which made him as good as Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, Fleetwood, MacIntyre and Tony Finau.
The German topped fancied names like Daniel Berger, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, McIlroy, Billy Horschel, DeChambeau, Jason Day, Lee Westwood and Patrick Cantlay.
With five months more preparation time – essential at Augusta where the grass has to be reseeded after every oppressive summer – the course was where chairman Fred Ridley and his members wanted it.
There wasn’t going to be another record twenty-under finish – Dustin Johnson’s post-lockdown aggregate – on their watch this time. But the oddity was that the greens seemed to play a little better at the time they might be expected to be browned out.
There’s some rain forecast for Friday with thunderstorms coming out of Alabama to the west but losing their bite before they reach Augusta. It might take the bite out of the course a little as well.