Ladies and gentlemen, we’re one round into the 2021 Masters and it’s freaking awesome. Let’s discuss!

They weren’t lyin’

Every day this week, we’ve relayed reports that Augusta National’s greens were playing firm in practice rounds. From ANGC chairman Fred Ridley to players and reporters, everyone agreed that the course was faster and tougher than it had been in several years.

They were right.

On Thursday, only 12 players broke par and just three shot better than 70. One of those players was Justin Rose, who apparently played a different course. Rose went nine under in his last 11 holes to post a 65, and he holds a four-shot lead heading into round two at the Masters. Leaderboard

While Rose’s otherworldly performance should get its due, the story of the day was Augusta National’s greens. They were bouncy and fiery, and the tricky pin positions became terrifying. Balls landing hole high often skipped well over the back, leaving testy chips to save par. In particular, the pins on Nos. 4, 5, 8, 10, and 15 required pinpoint approaches in order to avoid near-certain bogeys.

It’s worth emphasizing: this is how Augusta National’s greens are supposed to play in the Masters! Those who are too aggressive pay the price, and those who are patient and willing to take their medicine make it out alive. Since rain is in the forecast, course conditions may change tomorrow and Saturday, but if we avoid outright deluges, we could see a wonderfully lively Augusta National this weekend.

Who’s in it and who’s not (so far)

Two over par through his first seven holes, Justin Rose found “it” on the par-5 8th. From that point on, he made seven birdies and an eagle, leaving the rest of the field in the dust. With five career top 10s at the Masters, Rose is no stranger to contention at Augusta National. But given his recent struggles, Thursday’s round came out of nowhere. He finished first in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting and second in SG: Approach, which is useful at… well, any golf course. We’re excited to see if the 40-year-old can keep it rolling on Friday.

Also brilliant on Thursday were Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama, who are tied for second, four shots back. Both had early tee times, so they faced slightly easier conditions than Rose and others in the afternoon wave. Matsuyama’s round was particularly impressive, as he missed several birdie chances and still managed to fire a 69. Can he find enough consistency with the putter to let his ball-striking separate him from the field? In other words, can Hideki win?

Among the pack at two under is Korn Ferry Tour member Will Zalatoris, who also happens to be No. 46 in the Official World Golf Ranking. A Masters rookie, Zalatoris hit nine fairways and 14 greens during the first round.

This week’s center of attention fared pretty well on Thursday. Jordan Spieth played classic Spiethy golf, carding three birdies, an eagle, and a triple bogey on his way to a 71. Facing a tough chip back toward the pin on the icy 15th green, Spieth’s ball slammed into the flagstick, stopping it from going into the water. This was a three- or four-shot gift to the 2015 Masters champion that allowed him to stay within striking distance.

Rory McIlroy continued his tradition of starting slow at the Masters. He sprayed it all over the yard (one errant approach even hit the back of his dad’s leg) en route to a 76.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson played mediocre golf by his standards on Thursday, hovering around even par for most of the day before a poor tee ball on the 18th hole led to a double bogey. He finished with a 74.

Quick Hooks

In 1975, Lee Elder became the first Black player to compete in the Masters, and on Thursday, he appeared on Augusta National 1st tee alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter. The crowd by the tee box gave him a rousing round of applause. Full Story from

Unfortunately, Elder’s moment was accompanied by an apparent attempt at guerilla marketing. As Elder was introduced, Wayne Player, Gary’s son, held up a sleeve of golf balls in the camera’s line of sight. The ball company has since denied that it “asked or instructed Mr. Player” to do so. Full Story from Joel Beall

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