AUGUSTA, Georgia — Justin Rose entered the 85th Masters this week ranked No. 41 in the Official World Golf Ranking, his lowest ranking entering a tournament in a decade.
Rose, 40, hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in more than two years, and he has just one top-30 finish in five worldwide starts this season, a tie for second at the Saudi International on the European Tour. He withdrew from his most recent start with a back injury after only four holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
Sure, Rose has a very strong track record at Augusta National Golf Club, but what he did on the final 11 holes in Thursday’s opening round was as unexpected as Bryson DeChambeau hitting a fairway.
After falling to 2 over with a bogey on the seventh hole, Rose eagled the par-5 eighth and then had birdies on the ninth, 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes, playing the final 11 holes in 9 under. He finished with a 7-under 65.
Rose, who entered the tournament at 100-to-1 to win (his longest odds since the 2011 PGA Championship), will carry a 4-shot lead over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama into Friday’s second round. It’s the largest first-round lead at any major since the end of World War II, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“I kind of knew 2 over through seven is not the end of the world, but also knew you’re going in the wrong direction,” Rose said. “You can’t win the golf tournament today. Even with a 65 you can’t win it today. You can only probably lose it today, obviously.”
The obvious question now: Can Rose hold it for 54 more holes? His own personal track record and the Masters record book suggest no. It will be the 19th time that Rose has held a first-round lead on the PGA Tour. He has only two wins to show for it. In the previous three events in which Rose had a first-round lead, he finished tied for fifth, tied for 22nd and tied for 36th.
It’s the third time Rose has held the outright first-round lead at the Masters, which ties him with Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and Lloyd Mangrum for most of all time. In the previous three instances in which Rose had at least a share of the first-round lead here, in 2004, 2007 and 2008, he responded by shooting a combined 25 over in the final three rounds.
And it’s not just Rose who has buckled under the pressure of Augusta National in the past. He is the 11th player in the past 50 Masters tournaments to hold a multistroke lead after the first round. Only one of them — Spieth in 2015 — went on to win a green jacket. Rose was one of those players who couldn’t hold a lead; he led by 2 strokes after the first round in 2004 and finished tied for 22nd.
Big names with work to do
Augusta National’s firm, slick and windy conditions caused many players trouble in Thursday’s opening round, including some former champions, major winners and the most recognizable names in the sport.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot 2-over 74, along with four-time major winner Brooks Koepka. While neither player is out of contention, keep in mind that each of the past 15 Masters winners was under par after the opening round. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, of the past 30 Masters champions, only three were over par after 18 holes: José María Olazábal in 1994, Mark O’Meara in 1998 and most recently Tiger Woods in 2005.
The players who will have yeoman’s work to do on Friday just to make sure they have a spot on the weekend include Phil Mickelson (3 over), Matthew Wolff (4 over), Sergio Garcia (4 over), Rory McIlroy (4 over), DeChambeau (4 over), Jason Day (5 over), Lee Westwood (6 over) and Patrick Cantlay (7 over).
“I need to understand how the ball flies off of downhill slopes into uphill greens, and conversely uphill slopes into downhill greens, and all of the above,” DeChambeau said.
“We just can’t calculate and adjust the numbers very well, and the wind is pretty tricky out here. The greens are bouncing pretty hard, and that’s what happened.”
Who are these guys?
There are three names near the top of the leaderboard that might not be so familiar — Harman, Will Zalatoris and Christian Bezuidenhout.
Harman, who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and played at the University of Georgia, was one the last qualifiers for the Masters. He moved into the top 50 two weeks ago after tying for fifth at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He has played consistently well this season; he tied for third at the Players Championship.
It’s his third Masters appearance and first since 2018. After shooting a combined 11 over in his first six rounds at Augusta National, he carded a 3-under 69 in each of the past two. On Thursday, he was 3 under on the second nine, tied for second best in the field.
“The previous two times I’ve played it, I’ve certainly looked forward to it and maybe prepared too much for it,” Harman said. “I just kind of came in here, and I know the course pretty well. I’ve played here bunches of time. I love it around here. It’s just a matter of having my game ready.”
Zalatoris, 24, is a lock to win PGA Tour Rookie of the Year with five top-10s in 14 tour events this season, including a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open. He has missed only one cut — all the way back in October — and came into his first Masters start ranked fourth in shots gained: tee-to-green (1.51) and 12th in shots gained: total (1.54).
His opening-round 2-under 70 at the Masters was his first round under par in a major. He didn’t have a round under par in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
“Well, I mean, 17 months ago I was 2,000-plus in the world [rankings], but at the same time my goal isn’t to make a WGC event or a Masters or the Players,” Zalatoris said. “It’s obviously to win those someday. So it’s not the be-all, end-all, but I missed Korn Ferry Q-school two years ago and basically was sitting down with my coaches not even two years ago talking about playing mini-tour stuff.”
Bezuidenhout, from South Africa, is ranked No. 35 in the world, after winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open on the European Tour in 2020. He tied for seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, his lone top-10 in six tour starts this season.
He shot 2-under 70, after hitting 13 of 14 fairways, which was tied for the best in the field.
He finished tied for 38th at the Masters in November.
When Bezuidenhout was only 2, he accidentally drank rat poison while at a park. Doctors saved his life, but he suffered severe nervous system and speech issues. He now speaks with a stutter.