The Masters 2021: Red-hot Justin Rose, erratic Spieth and 6 first round takeaways

The first round of The Masters 2021 is now in the books with Justin Rose out to a big lead and we have takeaways and reactions from the opening 18 holes. 

Remember November when Dustin Johnson was doing nothing but making birdies on a receptive Augusta National Golf Club to win The Masters for the first time in his career? If you tuned in to watch DJ or any of the other players in the field for the 2021 edition of a tradition unlike any other, then you wouldn’t think these were the same tournament.

Played in its traditional spring setting among the azaleas on Thursday for the first round, it was a bloodbath to open The Masters. Few escaped without some substantial scar tissue and many players who were among the favorites already look like they’re out of contention, especially after Justin Rose closed with a 7-under 65, putting him four strokes clear of the next closest player on the leaderboard.

Things can change quickly, other than this being a truly demanding and rewarding test of skill on the golf course. So with that, let’s dive into some instant reactions and takeaways from the first 18 holes of The Masters and try to decipher what a wild Thursday means for the remaining 54 holes.

The Masters first round takeaways and reactions

6. Justin Rose closed on a scorching hot pace — but can he keep it up?

Thursday didn’t start off well for Justin Rose as he bogeyed the first hole, made five-straight pars, then bogeyed No. 7 as well. From that point on, though, the Englishman was playing at a torrid pace that began with an eagle on the eighth hole.

Rose played his final 11 holes of the day at 9-under par to ultimately shoot a 65 and give him a four-shot lead heading into Friday and the second round. This is now the fourth time in his career that he’s led after the first round of The Masters and his dominant closing stretch of golf gives the appearance of someone playing a different course than everyone else in the field.

Then again, this is the fourth time Rose has owned the first-round lead — and yet, he doesn’t have a Green Jacket to his credit. He’s come close but has never gotten over the hump at Augusta. So with the course playing this difficult, you have to wonder if he’ll be able to hang on after getting out to such a commanding lead.

5. Augusta is a different beast than it was in November

Because of the time of year in north Georgia, it was always going to be a different tournament in 2020 when the pandemic forced The Masters to be played in November. That played out blatantly as Dustin Johnson won with a record score of 20-under. He wasn’t the only player going low in the late fall, though, as the scoring was just generally lower all around.

All it took was one look at Augusta on Thursday to realize this is going to be a much different week. Or, you know, seeing an eagle putt roll into the water:

The greens are already browning and rolling like they would on Sunday in many other tournaments, testing the golfers immediately in this tournament. Last year’s first round scoring average was 71.4, per Justin Ray of the 15th Club. On Thursday, it was 74.5 with only 12 players under par. Players combined to shoot 54-under in the first round in 2020; they combined to shoot +220 in 2021. This is a much more difficult test than we saw less than 150 days ago.

4. Big names fighting the moment at The Masters early on

There are exceptions to every rule, so this shouldn’t be taken as a ubiquitous statement about the first round of The Masters; however, it felt as if all of the big names and many of the favorites in the field really struggle to begin the tournament.

Rory McIlroy not only hit his own father with an errant shot, but he also made only two birdies compared to six bogeys to finish tied 60th at 4-over. Bryson DeChambeau also shot 4-over. Patrick Cantlay ejected to shoot an abysmal 7-over round. And to a lesser extent, Dustin Johnson shot just 2-over while Justin Thomas also was over-par for his round.

It’s not totally impossible for the best players in the world to have bad days at the office. A tournament such as this, though, is supposed to separate those golfers from the pack. That happened to many of them, just in an unexpected manner.

3. The Jordan Spieth rollercoaster furiously continues 

Everyone was keeping an eye on the Jordan Spieth comeback tour leading up to The Masters but — as silly as this may sound — that cooled off a bit after he won the Valero Texas Open last week.

What’s always been remarkable about Spieth is that he’s not remotely a perfect golfer. He’s often been erratic off the tee but has the ability to save himself and grind out great rounds and finishes with his iron play and his short game. And that’s one of the reason he’s had such historical success at The Masters as well, which was on full display on Thursday.

Starting 1-under through his first eight holes, Spieth then found himself in the woods and hitting a shot that ricocheted off a tree and backwards en route to making a triple-bogey on No. 9. But he then followed that up with a birdie on the next hole and then made an unlikely eagle on the 15th hole to finish tied for eighth at 1-under.

Watching Jordan Spieth is not for the faint of heart. But the first round showcased that, even if the rollercoaster makes you queasy at times, the ride in its current form will put a smile on your face when it’s done.

2. It’s definitely not a Par 67 for Bryson DeChambeau

Emboldened by his victory at the 2020 U.S. Open and prior to the November Masters, beefed-up Bryson DeChambeau was embarking on a quest to belittle Augusta. Prior to that tournament, he referred to the famed track as a “Par 67” for himself with how far he could hit the ball off the tee.

That wasn’t the case then and it isn’t the case now. In November, DeChambeau finished at just 2-under, despite the scoring barrage around him, and tied for 34th. He finished Thursday’s first round in 2021 tied for 60th with a 4-over 76 (or 9-over if you go by his adjusted metrics) that included just one birdie and no eagles.

There is no denying that DeChambeau’s distance and strength give him an immense baseline advantage. However, that advantage only matters if he’s keeping the ball in the park and executing other areas of his game. He hit just 50 percent of his fairways on Thursday and had numerous bad putts (highlighting his reliance on greens books, which aren’t allowed at Augusta).

Put simply, DeChambeau has a long way to go before we can truly buy into what he’s selling as it pertains to The Masters.

1. The weekend at Augusta is going to be beautiful chaos

In the plainest terms, there isn’t a time when Augusta National Golf Club is an easy place to play. Some of the best professionals in the world can get hot and make it look that way, but even in those moments, they are being tested by a demanding course that asks so much of every facet of your game.

One of the trademarks of Augusta and The Masters, though, is that the course traditionally gets increasingly difficult as the week goes on. So if we just witnessed a first round in which there were only 12 players under par and only 19 players at Even or better for the day, what is this weekend going to look like?

My hunch coming into the 2021 edition of the tournament was that the committee at Augusta wasn’t happy with how the scoring looked in November and were going to, in essence, take it out on the players this week. That’s what we’re seeing and, frankly, it should product some wildly entertaining and wholly chaotic action over the final 54 and, more importantly, 36 holes of The Masters.

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