Justin Rose probably should have stayed in bed. The Englishman ended Day 2 at the Masters in the same place he began — atop the leaderboard — only to discover the objects in his mirror were suddenly a lot closer than they appeared.
“For sure,” Rose said, “I didn’t quite appreciate the scoring was going to be quite so good today.”
For everyone else, maybe.
Rose followed his opening-round 65 with an even-par 72 that let his rivals squeeze most of the air out of what had been a four-shot cushion. On Thursday, he was one of only three golfers to post a round in the 60s. Overcast skies Friday made the greens more receptive and by day’s end, there were more cards turned in with 60-something on them — 18 in all — than you’d see at the VFW hall on Bingo Night.
“For as tough as this place has been playing,” said Justin Thomas, who shot 67, “I felt like it was as easy as it could have been … a lot of my birdies have been pretty low stress or pretty easy.”
For all that, Rose’s 137 total at the midway point of the tournament was still good enough for a one-shot lead over Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman.
Zalatoris, who was plugging away on the Korn Ferry Tour about this time last year, birdied the final three holes for 68. He called his approach into the 18th his most satisfying swing of the round, “knowing that it would get me into the final group.”
Harman, a left-hander who didn’t think he’d qualify as recently as last month, birdied the last two for 69.
“Whenever you look up on the leaderboard and see your name up there pretty high at Augusta, it’s hard not to get nervous,” Harman said. “I was nervous. But it was nice to settle down with a good birdie on 2, and I struck it well all day today.”
He wasn’t the only one. Lurking another shot back at 139 were 2015 winner Jordan Spieth (68) and Marc Leishman (67). That, in turn, was one better than a six-pack of golfers at 140, including Thomas, Tony Finau (66) and most improbably perhaps, Si Woo Kim (69).
Kim’s chip for birdie from just behind the green at No. 15 had too much steam and zoomed past the cup before nestling into the fringe on the front. His reaction was steamier still. Kim slammed the head of his putter into the turf and snapped it off.
“Did you ever do that before?” a reporter asked afterward.
“Not on the course,” Kim replied to laughter.
He finished that hole and the next three putting with his fairway metal, which prompted another abrupt exchange.
“Si Woo, do you have another putter?”
“No, I don’t want to answer any more,” he replied. “Sorry.”
While Rose made no apologies, he had plenty of regrets. He bogeyed No. 1, had a 67-foot birdie try at the par-3 sixth fail to climb a slope near the pin and almost all the way back down to his feet for a second bogey, added a third at No. 7, and was stuck at 4 under walking off the 12th.
But Rose regrouped, birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to get back to even on the day. It might not have seem like much of an accomplishment compared to all those 60s. On the other hand, defending champion Dustin Johnson, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Patrick Cantlay were all headed for the exit after failing to hit the cut line at 147.
After his round, Rose was asked why so many first-round leaders — even the top players — struggle to string together great back-to-back rounds at Augusta.
“It’s hard. We haven’t quite figured out that dynamic. Otherwise,” he smiled ruefully, “we’d do a better job that second day.”