Augusta, Georgia – Justin Rose humbled a firm and fast Augusta National layout that wreaked havoc upon many of the world’s top golfers, seizing a four-stroke lead at the Masters on Thursday.
Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, birdied five of the last seven holes on the way to shooting a seven-under par 65, his best score by two strokes in 59 Masters rounds.
The 40-year-old Englishman defied a lightning-fast layout that baffled his rivals by going nine-under over the last 11 holes, the best closing run at the Masters by any golfer since 2004.
“The start was slow but a little bit of experience kicked in, knowing it was a tough day out here,” Rose said. “I knew if I could keep it near par it would be a good day.”
Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman each shot a 69 to share second place. Neither has ever won a major — or any U.S. PGA Tour event since 2017.
“I’ve never seen the greens so firm and fast,” Matsuyama said. “It was like a new course for me playing today and I was fortunate to get it around well.”
Rose, a Masters runner-up in 2015 and 2017, took the 18-hole lead for the fourth time after also doing so in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
“Even if I haven’t got an arm in the jacket yet, I feel like I’ve been there to see what it’s all about,” Rose said.
Using a deft touch with irons and the putter to solve the intimidating layout, Rose overcame bogeys on the first and seventh holes, starting with an eagle at the par-5 eighth.
“Making eagle there was huge,” Rose said.
Rose said he came into the tournament uncertain about where his game stood with his last win coming in 2019 at Torrey Pines.
He followed with back-to-back birdies at nine and 10, curling in a long putt at the latter, and managed the feat again in Amen Corner at the par-3 12th and par-5 13th, dropping his approaches within five feet.
He reeled off three more in a row, capped by a five-footer at 17, and closed with a par to match his second-best major round.
Rose’s lead matched the second-best after 18 holes in Masters history, trailing only winner Craig Wood’s record five strokes in 1941.
Patrick Reed, the 2018 champion, 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Masters debutant Will Zalatoris and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout were in a tie for fourth place at 70.
Only 12 players finished under par as mistakes were magnified around the hard-baked greens with winds adding to the intense challenge.
Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson, trying to become only the fourth back-to-back winner, lipped out a two-foot putt at 18 to close with a double bogey and a 74.
“Conditions were very difficult,” said Johnson. “I felt like I played pretty well. The last hole left a little sour taste in my mouth.
“The greens are always challenging but the wind, too. It was gusting and blowing and pretty hard to judge.”
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, seeking a victory to complete a career Grand Slam, is off to his worst Masters start with a 76.
“The par-5s you can birdie but then you have to be happy with giving yourself 25-, 30-footers every time,” McIlroy said. “If you can do that, you’ve played a really good round.”
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who had right knee surgery in March, opened with a 74.
“It can get pretty dicey out here if you put it in the wrong spot, the way these greens are,” Koepka said.
Third-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm, who only arrived Wednesday after being with his wife for the birth of their first child, closed with a bogey to shoot 72.
“It was a battle,” Rahm said. “There was not one moment where I felt relaxed out there … everybody struggled.”
Sergio Garcia, the 2017 champion, compared his 76 to a boxing match.
“I feel like just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield, like a 12-round match,” he said. “I need to go home and rest.”
Last year’s U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose massive drive over the green into bushes at the par-3 fourth brought a double bogey, was also at 76.
England’s Lee Westwood, trying to become the oldest Masters winner at age 47 after finishing second last month at Bay Hill and the Players, opened on 78.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood aced the 170-yard par-3 16th hole, the 32nd hole-in-one in Masters history, and shot 74.
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