News & Opinion

Don’t be so quick to fit Justin Rose for a green jacket

2021 Masters
Standing on the 18th green Thursday at Augusta National, Bryson DeChambeau ponders a lost opportunity in the 1st round after he shot 4-over 76.

Masters isn’t over, despite Rose’s fast start, and it’s too soon for field to press rather than focus on its main rival: Augusta National

With the first round of the Masters in the books, what’s more shocking: That Bryson DeChambeau didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole, or that Justin Rose played the last 11 holes in 9 under to shoot 65?

If you were to have juxtaposed DeChambeau and Rose at the beginning of the week, you would have had one player with confidence overflowing and the other uncertain about his game. So, what happens? Rose posts one of the greatest rounds in golf this season, leading the field by four strokes, and DeChambeau was on the practice range at Augusta National as the sun set, trying to find his game.

Sean Foley, Rose’s swing coach, left his pupil with an appraisal before Rose teed off Thursday: “Buddy, I don't know if you're close or not, but I just know it's better.”

DeChambeau, the long-driving brute who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance and was intent on overpowering Augusta National, seemed out of sorts on almost every shot. He finished at 4-over 76, which was a gift for as poorly as he played, hitting only 50 percent of fairways and greens. If not for his putter, which was so much better than the rest of his game, the current U.S. Open champion might be looking for a different swing and possibly a change in philosophy.

The rest of the field went to sleep Thursday night facing a decision that they couldn’t have anticipated: With Rose four shots clear of American Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (scores), should they ignore what Rose did and just play their respective games or chase the leader so soon?

The nature of Augusta National is that no lead is insurmountable, but a lack of patience or an urge to press starting on Friday could be a bad omen for ultimate success.

Of course, some players who are fantasy favorites – Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and DeChambeau among them – should be unconcerned with Rose. Other than Reed and Spieth, two former Masters champions, they’re all at par or worse and should be focused not on Rose but on making the top 50 and ties after Friday’s play and qualifying for the weekend.

Spieth came into this event on a roll after having won the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, and his good fortune Thursday on the 15th hole could be a difference maker. He holed a speedy chip from behind the par-5’s green, with the ball headed for the pond fronting the green before it hit the flagstick and dropped for an eagle.

“Probably the luckiest break I've ever gotten out here, if not anywhere, because that was at least a three-shot break,” Spieth said. “If it goes in the water, I'm re-dropping, and I've got to get up-and-down for it to be a three-shot break. So, I'm up-and-down for a 6. If I don't get it up-and-down, it's a 7 or worse. As many shots as I hit that were a yard off earlier in the round, it was more than made up for there.”

With rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday at Augusta, the course could lose some of its fire from Thursday. The SubAir moisture-management system can whisk away Mother Nature’s tears and bring the course to where the green jackets want it each April. Dustin Johnson dissected the course with a record 20-under winning score in November, but Augusta National will not turn into a pitch-and-putt.

In that extraordinary autumn Masters, first-round scoring was a combined 54 under par, compared with Thursday’s first-round 220 over. So, relax. It was hard, as Gary Woodland said after he shot 1-over 73. “I feel like I just got in the ring with Mike Tyson or somebody,” the 2019 U.S. Open champion said. “It was brutal out there.”

One thing is certain entering Friday’s second round of the 85th Masters: It’s still up for grabs. The green jackets wouldn’t have it any other way.

Morning Read's Day 1 Coverage from the 2021 Masters:
Augusta National wins Round 1, by Gary Van Sickle
Don't crown Justin Rose just yet, by Alex Miceli
Rory shoots 76, drills father with errant shot, by Steve Harmon
CBS, ESPN play to each other's strengths, by John Hawkins
Round 1 Recap in Pictures
Round 2 Tee Times

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