Former US Open champion Justin Rose produced an immaculate seven-under par 65 to lead the 85th US Masters by four strokes after an opening day that saw several heavyweight names struggle in exacting conditions.
The Englishman – who lost to European Ryder Cup colleague Sergio Garcia in a sudden-death play-off at the 2017 Masters – looks well placed to add to his 2013 US Open victory around Merion after mastering the slick greens at Augusta to end Thursday a class apart from the chasing field.
“You can’t win the golf tournament today,” said Rose, who eagled the eighth and rolled in birdies on the ninth, 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th in one of the hottest runs in Masters history. “Even with a 65, you can’t win it today. You can only probably lose it today, obviously.
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I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t know where my game was coming into this week, so I’m thrilled with that round. I’d seen some improvement on the range and I felt I was close. I didn’t know it was this close!
Rose has remarkably enjoyed at least a share of the 18-hole lead three previous times at the Masters in 2004 – when he led by two after a 67 – 2007 and 2008, but finds himself four strokes clear of the field in 2021 after finishing nine-under for his final 11 holes with his lowest effort in 59 rounds.
Only six-times winner Jack Nicklaus has led four times after the first round.
Rose, whose age of 40 is one less than his current world ranking, was two-over par after seven holes with bogeys at the first and seventh and seemingly toiling before embarking upon an astonishing run as an eagle at the par-five eighth was followed by seven birdies, six coming on the back nine. So much for the rest struggling on greens like sheets of glass.
He had a birdie putt at the last to match Craig Wood's largest opening-round lead of five strokes on his way to winning the 1941 Masters, three clear of Byron Nelson.
"I guess the good news is I don't know what happened and that's what happens when you're playing freely," said Rose.
"I didn't panic when I was two over through eight, that's the most important thing.
Even though I saw red numbers on the board I knew it was a good day not to play myself out of the tournament. Of course, nine coming through the final 11, you never see that coming at Augusta.
"The way we've played it today you play off memory banks. You have to respect the course. It was a fun experience playing in November, but it is a golf course that plays different at different times. There was a swirling wind out here today.
"But there were a lot of situations today that reminded me of Augustas of years past."
Rose's form was even more impressive with Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama both hitting 69 respectively. They are the closest challengers on three-under and the only other players in the 89-man field to shoot under 70 with only 12 men managing to finish under par after the first round.
An 80-1 shot at the start of the day, the Olympic champion returned from a back injury that forced him to miss the Players Championship last month during a five-week absence.
"I had a month off, I hadn't played competitive golf for a good four weeks. I've been working hard, I probably could have played the last two tournaments but trying to prepare hard for this Masters," added Rose, who is out early as he begins his second round at 2:36pm (BST) on Friday. "I've been working hard and seeing a lot of improvement.
"That's where I came in today. Obviously the start was slow but a bit of experience kicked in and knowing it was a tough day out here. I knew if I could keep it around even par for the day I knew it was a decent day's work."
Defending champion Dustin Johnson managed to get himself to one-under, but finished with a bogey at the par-three 16th before a double-bogey at the par-four 18th saw him sign for a two-over par 74.
The world number one finished on a record 20-under-par total, the lowest in Masters history for 72 holes, to claim his first Green Jacket at the delayed event in November.

Justin Rose of England reacts on the 16th hole during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on 8 April, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia/

Image credit: Eurosport

But the pre-tournament favourite toiled with the firmer greens and windy conditions in his bid to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only men to win back-to-back titles around Augusta.
"The conditions are definitely different," said Johnson. "The course is a little bit firmer and faster. But it's still the same golf course.
Playing definitely a lot tougher just because, when the greens are firm and fast here, the golf course plays difficult. Then you add the wind in today, it made it play really difficult.
Four-times Major champion Rory McIlroy found himself 11 strokes adrift of Ryder Cup team-mate Rose after an eventful 76 that included six bogeys and hitting his father Gerry with a wayward approach shot at the par-four seventh hole.
McIlroy caught his dad's left leg as his shot to the green flew to the other side of the fairway.
"I knew it was my dad when I was aiming at him," said McIlroy. "Probably 30 seconds before it hit him..I think he just needs to go put some ice on it, maybe I'll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him."
While his dad suffered no serious damage, McIlroy's prospects were badly bruised with his worst ever start to the Masters.
He hit a 75 in November before recovering to finish fifth alongside Dylan Frittelli, but his game seems to lack the consistency to challenge for a first Green Jacket this week.
US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau finished with a 76 on a trying day as his power was negated by the exacting demands of the slick greens.
Elsewhere, Rose's fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton hit a 71 on one-under with Ireland's Open champion Shane Lowry and 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth finishing on the same total.
Tommy Fleetwood also hit a hole-in-one on the par-three 16th hole as he recorded a 74, but Lee Westwood toiled with a 78 to end his first round on six over.

Leading first round scores (Par 72):

  • 65 Justin Rose (Eng)
  • 69 Brian Harman (USA), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)
  • 70 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Patrick Reed (USA), Webb Simpson (USA), Will Zalatoris (USA)
  • 71 Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Jason Kokrak (USA), Shane Lowry (Irl), Jordan Spieth (USA)
  • 72 Cameron Champ (USA), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Kevin Kisner (USA), Mar Leishman (Aus), Jon Rahm (Spa), Xander Schauffele (USA), Michael Thompson (USA)

Friday's second-round tee times (local time, BST +5 hours)

  • 8 a.m. -- Vijay Singh, Martin Laird
  • 8:12 a.m. -- Larry Mize, Jimmy Walker, Brian Gay
  • 8:24 a.m. -- Carlos Ortiz, Mackenzie Hughes, Bernd Wiesberger
  • 8:36 a.m. -- Mike Weir, C. T. Pan, Robert MacIntyre
  • 8:48 a.m. -- Jose Maria Olazabal, Matt Wallace, Lanto Griffin
  • 9 a.m. -- Victor Perez, Jason Kokrak, Marc Leishman
  • 9:12 a.m. -- Fred Couples, Francesco Molinari, a-Charles Osborne
  • 9:24 a.m. -- Zach Johnson, Kevin Na, Gary Woodland
  • 9:36 a.m. -- Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar
  • 9:48 a.m. -- Billy Horschel, Tyrrell Hatton, Ryan Palmer
  • 10:06 a.m. -- Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood, Scottie Scheffler
  • 10:18 a.m. -- Patrick Cantlay, Sungjae Im, Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • 10:30 a.m. -- Adam Scott, Bryson DeChambeau, Max Homa
  • 10:42 a.m. -- Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Thomas
  • 10:54 a.m. -- Jordan Spieth, Cameron Smith, Collin Morikawa
  • 11:06 a.m. -- Michael Thompson, Hudson Swafford
  • 11:18 a.m. -- Sandy Lyle, Matt Jones, Dylan Frittelli
  • 11:30 a.m. -- Ian Woosnam, Jim Herman, Stewart Cink
  • 11:42 a.m. -- Sebastian Munoz, Henrik Stenson, Robert Streb
  • 11:54 a.m. -- Bernhard Langer, Will Zalatoris, a-Joe Long
  • 12:12 p.m. -- Brian Harman, Ian Poulter, Brendon Todd
  • 12:24 p.m. -- Charl Schwartzel, Si Woo Kim, Corey Conners
  • 12:36 p.m. -- Danny Willett, Joaquin Niemann, Kevin Kisner
  • 12:48 p.m. -- Jason Day, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ
  • 1 p.m. -- Hideki Matsuyama, Harris English, Abraham Ancer
  • 1:12 p.m. -- Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland
  • 1:24 p.m. -- Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson, Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  • 1:36 p.m. -- Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, a-Tyler Strafaci
  • 1:48 p.m. -- Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy
  • 2 p.m. -- Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Paul Casey
  • * first-time participants
  • a=amateur
Past champions not playing: Tommy Aaron, Jack Burke Jr., Angel Cabrera, Charles Coody, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Bob Goalby, Jack Nicklaus, Mark O’Meara, Gary Player, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Fuzzy Zoeller
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