2021 Masters takeaways: Justin Rose shocks field with low score after tough Round 1 at Augusta National
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Justin Rose has already won a U.S. Open. Now he leads another major. On one of the toughest days in recent Masters history, Rose went out and fired an astonishing 7-under 65 that will almost certainly be the round of the week and was one of the best rounds to the field average in the 85-year history of the tournament. What's even crazier is that this is one of the stronger fields in the recent history of the tournament with none of the top 50 players in the world missing because of injury.
On a day when the field average rose above 74, Rose looked like he was headed the same direction with two bogeys in his first seven holes. Then he played the next 11 in 9 under with seven birdies and an eagle. The result is his fourth lead or co-lead after the first round in Masters history, tying Jack Nicklaus, according to Justin Ray. Rose also leads or co-leads his sixth round ever at the Masters, the most for anyone without a green jacket.
Strokes gained is a sometimes confusing metric, but in this case it's instructive. The number of strokes you gain on the field is a fancy way of saying how much better you were than the field average. Double-digits in a single round happens only a handful of times a year on the PGA Tour in any event, much less at a major championship. Rose finished at just under 10 strokes gained on the day. (Again, he started 2 over thru 7!)
Rose leads by four over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama, which is important because he has failed to close out any of those other three first-round leads at the Masters. Though he has a terrific history on this course, he's still looking for his first green jacket. The breathing room he's built in might not be as stable as it seems, though. Rose has just three top 10s in 19 starts worldwide since golf came back last June. He has -- at different times -- been one of the five best players in the world. Right now, he might not be one of the top 50.
However, players like Rose don't forget how to ride the bicycle at major championships. He's helped by the fact that most of the top-10 players in the world had bumpy first days. Dustin Johnson is nine back. Jon Rahm is six back. Rory McIlroy is 11 back. There is room for Rose to move around.
First-round accolades are nice, but a player with Rose's resume and career only cares about collecting titles. Now he has his best chance ever with 54 holes remaining at the Masters. With one of the great rounds in tournament history under his belt, he's the new favorite to close out his second major title. It won't take another 54 holes of what he did on Thursday, but it will take him hanging on for dear life for the next three days as a desperate field thunders after him on a course that thus far has demanded absolute perfection.
2. The toughest test: Remember when 20 under won here in November? In the first round of the 2020 Masters, 24 players shot in the 60s in the first round. On Thursday, only three accomplished that feat. The combination of slicker greens, a bit of wind and firmer conditions undid nearly everyone not named "Rose."
"Playing definitely a lot tougher just because, when the greens are firm and fast here, the golf course plays difficult," said defending champion Dustin Johnson, who shot a 2-over 74. "Then you add the wind in today, it made it play really difficult."
This means a lot of different things, but most importantly, it means that despite Rose's massive lead, nobody is really out of it. Augusta National can do anything they want with the golf course right now. They can dial it up, or they can pull it back. The next three days are going to be insanely demanding, which means everything is still really live and a four-stroke lead is tantamount to nothing with 54 holes left.
3. Great One's vibe: I was standing on the 7th hole on Thursday watching Johnson's group play out, and Wayne Gretzky was there (Johnson is engaged to Gretzky's daughter, Paulina) talking about how much more energy this is on the grounds this year compared to the November Masters. I felt it all day, and that's the right word for it. Come the weekend, the roars won't be what we're used to historically, but there's a much different juice flowing through this tournament than there was five months ago.
4. Rory's story: A frustrating trend continued for the four-time major winner. He shot a 4-over 76 in the first round, including a ball in the water on No. 13 and a shot off his dad's leg (really) on No. 7. His opening round has become more the rule than the exception over the last few years.
5. The top-10 theory: Since 2005, only Tiger Woods has come from outside the top 10 after Round 1 to win this golf tournament. If that stands up, then your winner will be one of the following 12 golfers.
6. Spieth's ride: I picked Spieth up at an inopportune time on Thursday as he was making triple at the par-4 9th hole. He hit his second off a tree and was discussing launch angles of his 4-iron vs. his 3-wood to try and hit something over a protruding root, under a branch and up on top of the green to try and save bogey. He didn't, but the entire sequence is all part of the fun (if that's what you want to call it) with him. He finished with a chip-in eagle on No. 15 that should have rolled in the water, which if you haven't been paying close enough attention, is absolutely half the fun. Spieth finished at 1 under, playing the second nine in 3 under.
7. Ageless Woosie: Ian Woosnam, age 63, shot a 76 (same as Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia) with what he called a torn muscle in his groin. He clipped Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day and Lee Westwood. I'm not sure enough was made of this. "I'm playing on one leg really, so yeah," he said. "Plus I haven't had a scorecard in my hand for 18 months, so I was pretty damned pleased really."
8. Zalatoris debut: It flew a little under the radar, but Will Zalatoris got in the house early on Thursday with a 2-under 70. I loved this quote from him afterward: "Yeah, kind of the joke that I've been saying with my family is if I'm stupid enough to think I can play here, then I'm stupid enough to think I can win it."
9. Reed ... again? Is Patrick Reed going to win two Masters in four years? Five years ago, I would have told you that was impossible, but he's 2 under after a pair of 34s with just three players in front of him. Of that group inside the top 10, he's one of just three with a major win and the only one with a green jacket.
Bonus -- Meme-d into oblivion: The trials and tribulations of life as a golf writer. I was filmed standing behind Lee Westwood's golf ball on the third hole and immediately got "Bernie Sanders at the inauguration" treatment from the golf Twitter crowd. It was somehow both embarrassing and gratifying all at the same time.