AUGUSTA, Ga. – With an armada of birdies and an eagle in Thursday’s first round of the 85th Masters, Justin Rose sailed away from all others and took a staggering 4-shot lead with a stunning 7-under-par 65, a score that was 9.5 strokes better than the field average.
A day later, he had plenty of company.
Rose, who finished runner-up here in 2015 and lost in a playoff in 2017 to Sergio Garcia, rebounded from a poor front nine in Friday’s second round at Augusta National and remained at the top of the leaderboard with an even-par 72 that left him at 7 under through 36 holes.
But under overcast skies and on a slightly softer course and less crusty greens, a fleet of players came charging and before noon talk of a runaway had been silenced. Rose hit his opening tee shot deep into the Georgia Pines and bogeyed three of his first seven holes before he regained some distance between himself and the field with three late birdies.
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Still, the 2013 U.S. Open champ’s overnight lead was cut to one among the early finishers as Will Zalatoris, who was ranked 483rd one year ago this week, shot 68 to assume second place. By virtue of a 69 on Friday, Brian Harman pulled even with Zalatoris, one off the lead.
Two shots back were 2015 Masters champion and a resurgent Jordan Spieth (68) and Marc Leishman (67).
World No. 2 Justin Thomas (67), Tony Finau (66) and Bernd Wiesberger (66), who putted an eagle attempt on the 15th green in the first round into a pound, each moved within three shots.
“I was joking, the finger was heading towards the panic button a little bit,” Rose said. “I had a little talk with myself on 8 and said you’re still leading the Masters, and I just changed my mindset a little bit and started to play match play against the golf course. I scratched a line on my scorecard and told myself I was three down and could I go ahead and beat the golf course from that point on. I had a putt on 18 to win my match 1-up, but unfortunately, it just slipped by. But an honorable draw.
“It was just a classic day at Augusta National when you’re just slightly off. You can be a foot or two out on certain occasions and you end up struggling.”
Spieth is looking like Spieth again after winning last week’s Valero Texas Open, his first PGA Tour title since the 2017 Open championship and his fourth top-4 finish in his last seven starts.
“It’s still a process to getting back to how I used to swing the club, but last week, the win was an exclamation point, for sure,” Spieth said. “But getting into contention, feeling the pressure, the more you do that, the more comfortable you get and so it was goal accomplished last week.
“Fortunately, Rosie didn’t go off today. Nine under his last 10 holes, that was ridiculous, especially in the conditions. It was some of the best golf I’ve ever seen. Today early in the round I saw he had fallen back, and it was sort of a boost. Being two back going into the weekend, if I can shoot 5 under, that might be good enough.”
Thomas won The Players Championship earlier this year and the 2017 PGA champion looks in top form once again.
“I played great today. I drove the ball better, hit more quality iron shots, had some great up-and-downs. It was easy,” Thomas said. “I’ve still left a lot of shots out there but I’m in a great position going into the weekend.”