Englishman Rose in command at the Masters

·3-min read

Not even Justin Rose himself could have imagined a start like this at the Masters.

Last month the Englishman walked off in the middle of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then failed to front up to the tee at the lucrative Players Championship because of a back injury. He hadn't played since.

On Thursday, Rose was two-over after seven holes under hard and fast conditions that saw the scoring average finish at 74.52 for the day. In his 58 previous rounds at Augusta National his personal best was 67.

So to fathom the incredible 11-hole stretch that saw him finish with a seven-under 65 and a four-shot lead wasn't easy. Even if he made it look easy.

The 2013 US Open winner and 2016 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 holes.

"I didn't feel like today was the day for a 65 if I'm honest," Rose said.

"To be nine under for my last 11, you can never quite see that coming here at Augusta National."

He made 17 of 19 putts inside 20-feet to take the 18-hole lead for the fourth time in his career, matching the tournament record set by six-time champion Jack Nicklaus.

"Managing expectation is going to be the trick the rest of the week," said the 2015 and 2017 runner-up at Augusta.

"Hopefully you can just run off instinct a little bit. I've competed in these big tournaments quite a few times, and I've got one of them to my name, but we're looking for more.

"I've had some situations in my career that should stand me in good stead but you can never get ahead of yourself.

"We've seen it many times around here."

In his quest to be Japan's first men's major winner, Hideki Matsuyama carded a tidy three-under 69 to join American left-hander Brian Harman in a tie for second.

Four players including former champion Patrick Reed, ex-US Open winner Webb Simpson, American Will Zalatoris and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout share fourth after rounds of 70.

Marc Leishman had held the outright lead earlier at four-under but four bogeys in a six-hole stretch sent the Victorian tumbling back to even-par 72.

He still leads the Australian efforts, with 2013 champion Adam Scott and 2020 runner-up Cameron Smith both bogeying the last to card two-over 74s.

Matt Jones also posted a 74 after fighting back with two late birdies while Jason Day could muster no better than a five-over 77.

New father and world No.3 Jon Rahm opened with a 72 while defending champion and world No.1 Dustin Johnson started with a 74 after dropping three shots in the final three holes.

Brooks Koepka returned from knee surgery with a 74 and Rory McIlroy's shot at a career grand slam looks dead and buried once more with an opening 76, the same score posted by big hitting Bryson DeChambeau who failed to overpower the course.