The opening round of the 2021 Masters is now in the rear-view mirror, and if Thursday is any indication of how the Augusta National course is going to play this week, we will be getting a front-row seat to an epic battle between course and creature. As firm conditions wreaked havoc on the field, only three golfers opened their week with a round in the 60s, a significant decline contrasted to the Masters in November when 24 golfers opened their week with a round in the 60s.
Defending champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was not exempt from the chaos after posting a 2-over 74. Neither were Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka or Bryson DeChambeau, who all turned in over-par rounds to start their week.
"The conditions are definitely different," said Johnson after his round, drawing a distinction between how the course played in November compared to Thursday. "Playing definitely a lot tougher just because, when the greens are firm and fast here, the golf course plays difficult. Then you add the wind in today, it made it play really difficult, I thought."
Everyone except Justin Rose seemed to be susceptible to the treacherous conditions as the 40-year-old put together a stunning opening-round 65 to enter Friday with a four-stroke lead on the field. It marks the sixth time in Rose's career he has led or co-led at the Masters, the most all-time by a player who has not won at Augusta National. He tops a crowded field of contenders that includes Hideki Matsuyama, Brian Harman, Christiaan Bezuidenholt, Patrick Reed and others.
Let's break down the top of the Masters leaderboard through one day at Augusta National.
1. Justin Rose (-7): Through seven holes, Rose was 2 over and in the chase with a whole host of golfers before an eagle and birdie to close his first nine got him on a hot streak. He then played the next eight holes at 6 under and went out in 30.
T2. Brian Harman (-3): On a day where only a select few golfers managed to turn in rounds in the 60s, Harman, who had just one round under par in his last 14 rounds prior to Thursday, carded a 3-under 69. He made the turn at even par and capitalized off his strong short game with birdies on 13, 15 and 18. "I was able to get a couple of really good up and downs, and the stretch of kind of 5, 6, and 7, kind of hung in there, and was able to make a couple putts," he said. He has not yet won a major championship but has contended with his best performance coming with a T2 finish at the U.S. Open in 2017.
T2. Hideki Matsuyama (-3): With firm conditions, Matsuyama after his round credited his ability to hit his second shot on the right side of the pin for his hot start. He eagled the par-5 8th hole and had just one bogey on the day. This is the first time in his career he sits in the top five on the leaderboard after the first round of a major.
T4. Christiaan Bezuidenholt (-2): This is just Bezuidenholt's second-ever appearance at the Masters. After finishing T38 in November, led by an opening-round 69, he is once again off to a hot start. Bezuidenholt fizzled a bit on the second nine -- he played it at 1 over after playing the first nine at 3 under -- but his reliable short game and ability to limit his three-putts to one on Thursday has him in a great spot.
T4. Patrick Reed (-2): The 2018 Masters champion had a bogey-free first nine to get to 2 under on Thursday. At one point, he was tied for the lead before riding the rollercoaster on the second nine, which saw him turn in a pair of bogeys and a pair of bogeys. But he was pleased about his creativity on the course post-round, saying the challenging conditions and the setup is what plays to his strengths. "I feel like that's usually when I play my best," Reed said.
T4. Will Zalatoris, Webb Simpson (-2): Making his first career appearance at the Masters, the 24-year-old Zalatoris did so in style, at one point co-leading the tournament after an eagle on the par-5 15th. Grizzled vet Simpson turned in a 70 of his own to match the rookie with his performance the third-best opening round for him in his career at the Masters.
T8. Jordan Spieth (-1): It would've been totally reasonable -- and expected -- if Spieth had hit the eject button after carding a triple bogey on the 9th. Instead, he cobbled together an impressive 3-under second nine to climb back into contention entering Friday. He's striking his irons with a ton of confidence, and save for the miscues, he's got the putter working to boot. Happy to report Spieth Island is still above water.
T8. Si Woo Kim, Jason Kokrak, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry (-1): Kim's opening-round 71 marked his second-best start at Augusta on the strength of a first nine 2 under. It was Hatton's best start ever at a Masters in his fifth appearance. Remarkable achievement after Hatton had a double bogey on the par-3 4th and Kim had four bogeys sprinkled throughout his round.
T13: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and five others (E): There was a high level of intrigue to see how Rahm, who just welcomed a baby into the world earlier this month, would respond to turning from changing diapers to attacking greens. He handled the transition fine by shooting par on both ends of the course. Rahm described his round afterwards as a "battle," adding: "It's really difficult out there."
T20: Justin Thomas and nine others (+1): Withstanding a first-nine 3 over, Thomas played the second nine bogey-free and birdied holes 10 and 16 to tie for his second-best opening round at the Masters in his career. He is coming off a career-best fourth-place finish at the Masters in November.
T30: Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and 20 others (+2): Johnson, the defending champion, ended his day with a double bogey on 18 and a bogey on 16, putting a damper on an otherwise fine first round by showing control off the tees and around the green. Koepka, who finished T2 at the Masters in 2019, hobbled around the course, notably favoring his surgically-repaired knee by bending with one leg and resting when possible. Given his physical condition and the course conditions, it was a respectable round. After his 18 holes, his assessment was different: "I just didn't play good."
T60: Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and 10 others (+4): McIlroy opened his round with four-straight pars before making bogey on four of his next five to polish off the first nine. He had two more bogeys -- on No. 11 and No. 13 -- before four pars and a birdie to close his day. DeChambeau had early struggles, too, as he went out in 4 over before playing the second nine at even-par.