US Masters: Shane Lowry battles back as Justin Rose surges ahead
Jordan Spieth among the few to shoot under par on a day when Augusta showed its teeth
Shane Lowry plays a shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The azaleas and flowering dogwoods acted as pretty decorative diversions, for – in truth – the real threat to players in this 85th edition of the Masters tournament came on the short grass. Slick, fast and firm greens provided an examination of the most important clubs in the bag where players’ ability to make approaches stick and then for the putter to do the job required of it meant for contrasting fortunes.
However, amidst all of that, Justin Rose blitzed through the back nine with seven birdies and an eagle in his last 11 holes to sign for a first round of 65 and lead by four shots at seven under par.
For Shane Lowry, a round that promised so much looked to be unravelling before he fought back in the closing stages. The 2019 British Open champion reached the turn in two-under-par 34 but found out just why the 10th hole has earned the reputation through time as statistically the toughest hole of all.
There, Lowry pulled his tee-shot left and out-of-bounds and was forced to reload, ultimately running up a double-bogey six. Then, on the 15th, even his renowned short game was exposed when he overshot the green at the Par 5 and his pitch back stalled momentarily only to get a second life and run on, falling off the putting surface into the water, the only saving grace being that his second chip (after a penalty drop) resulted in a bogey rather than anything greater to be one-over through 15.
However, the Offalyman is suited to tough conditions and was not going to give up easily. A lovely tee shot at the Par 3 16th set up a birdie two and he even managed to finish under par for the day with a 20-footer for birdie at the last to sign for a round of 71 which leaves him in a tie for eighth at one under.
Earlier in the day, Hideki Matsuyama and left-hander Brian Harman looked to have posted impressive clubhouse targets with three-under-par 69s but Rose simply blew by those.
While the majority of the field struggled with greens described as “like glass” by 1991 winner Ian Woosnam and “pretty crispy” by former British Open champion Henrik Stenson, Rose overcame a slow start with a sensational burst of scoring.
After playing his first seven holes in two over par, the Olympic gold medallist covered the next 10 in nine under thanks to an eagle on the eighth and birdies on the ninth, 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th. That ensured Rose, who lost out in a playoff to Sergio Garcia in 2017, ended the first round in the lead for the fourth time in his career, matching the tournament record set by six-time champion Jack Nicklaus.
“I guess the good news is I don’t know what happened, that’s often when you play your best golf and get into the nice rhythm or flow,” Rose said.
“I didn’t panic being two over through seven. I knew this was a day not to play yourself out of the tournament; the course had a lot of teeth to it. “The pins were relatively fair so good golf shots could be rewarded and to be nine under for my last 11, you can never quite see that coming here at Augusta National.”
Jordan Spieth – fancied by many to claim a second green jacket after ending his barren winning spell in Texas last week – sits alongside Lowry at one under par after an opening 71 despite a triple bogey.
After clattering a tree with his second shot at the Par 4 ninth the 2015 champion wound up with three putts leading to a seven. However, a birdie at the 10th got the three-time Major winner back on track before a pitch from the back of the green at the Par 5 15th, which looked to be trundling down the green and into the water, hit the flag flush in the middle and dropped for an eagle three to move him back to one under, the mark at which he would finish.
For those out of sync, and there were many with Rory McIlroy (four over) and Bryson DeChambeau among them, there was a sense of clinging on for dear life in the hope that salvation would come another day. Despite coming in as one of the favourites, DeChambeau’s struggles at Augusta continued with his power-hitting strategy leading to an opening 76 and a spot alongside McIlroy in a tie for 60th.
Unlike the challenge asked of players in last November’s deferred 2020 tournament when the course was soft and greens receptive, this fast and firm springtime course was more like the Augusta National which traditionally asks the toughest of questions where players out of position off the tee were invariably punished and where any heavy-handiness around or on the greens resulted in embarrassment.
As former US Open champion Webb Simpson put it, “it was a day where I think there’s going to be some high scores. Guys are going to shoot themselves out of the golf tournament on day one. I knew it would be tough.”
Those sentiments were matched by many players, on a day where any loss of concentration was liable to be punished. “The conditions are definitely different,” admitted Dustin Johnson who had romped to victory in comparing the contrast of just five months ago. “It’s still the same golf course. But definitely a lot tougher just because, when the greens are firm and fast, the golf course plays differently.”
Indeed, the defending champion’s fate matched that of many others, as he battled so hard for 17 holes only to incur a finishing double-bogey (after a wild drive into trees) for a round of 74. “Maybe I’m not quite as sharp as it was (in November), the irons aren’t as sharp as they were. I feel like I’m driving it good and putting it good, just need to dial the irons in a little bit,” explained Johnson of what was needed to turn his defence around.
And there were many left licking their wounds. Sergio Garica, a 76. McIlroy, a 76. Lee Westwood, a 78. And, yet, there were those who found a way to master a course – with gusts of wind occasionally reaching 15mph – with Matsuyama, again to the fore in that quest for a breakthrough Japanese Major winner in the men’s game, displaying calmness to go with some superb shot-making to card a 69 while Harman birdied three of his closing six holes to join him on that mark.
There was a healthy mix of the young and old, experienced and inexperienced among those who managed to contrive a sub-par score. Simpson, a veteran at this stage, and Patrick Reed, a past champion, were joined on two-under-par 70 by a couple of up-and-coming players in Will Zalatoris, who has made a phenomenal impact this season, and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Zalatoris was ranked 2,004th in the world rankings just two years ago but has played his way to 46th in the latest world rankings, earning his exemption into the tournament and displaying few if any signs of nerves.
“You know, when you hear the ‘fore please, now driving’, you dream about that for your entire life. I think if anything in a weird way it kind of takes a little bit of pressure off because it’s like, ‘hey, I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, now I’m doing it’,” admitted Zalatoris of stepping seamlessly onto the biggest stage in professional golf.
Collated first round scores in The Masters, Augusta National GC, Augusta, Georgia, United States of America (USA unless stated, Par 72):
65 Justin Rose (Eng)
69 Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)
70 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Will Zalatoris
71 Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Jason Kokrak, Shane Lowry (Irl), Jordan Spieth
72 Cameron Champ, Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman (Aus), Jon Rahm (Spa), Xander Schauffele, Michael Thompson
73 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Paul Casey (Eng), Corey Conners (Can), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Hudson Swafford, Justin Thomas, Brendon Todd, Gary Woodland
74 Stewart Cink, Harris English, Tony Finau, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Max Homa, Dustin Johnson, Matt Jones (Aus), Brooks Koepka, Martin Laird (Sco), Bernhard Langer (Ger), Robert MacIntyre (Sco), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Sebastian Munoz (Col), Ryan Palmer, Ian Poulter (Eng), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Adam Scott (Aus), Cameron Smith (Aus), Matt Wallace (Eng), Bubba Watson, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
75 Daniel Berger, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Jose Maria Olazabal (Spa), Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker
76 Bryson DeChambeau, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Lanto Griffin, Jim Herman, Billy Horschel, Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Charles Osborne (a), Danny Willett (Eng), Matthew Wolff, Ian Woosnam (Wal)
77 Jason Day (Aus), Sung Jae Im (Kor), Zach Johnson
78 Brian Gay, Matt Kuchar, Victor Perez (Fra), Mike Weir (Can), Lee Westwood (Eng)
79 Patrick Cantlay, Fred Couples, Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Vijay Singh (Fij)
80 Ty Strafaci (a)
81 Sandy Lyle (Sco)
82 Joe Long (Eng) (a), Carlos Ortiz (Mex)
84 Larry Mize