Justin Rose had not played for five weeks because of a back injury and, instead of competitive golf, prepared by sitting in his trophy room at home, visualising how he would play Augusta National. Yet even in his wildest fantasies, he would never have envisaged shooting a seven-under 65 to take a four-shot lead. Masters 2021, first round leaderboard in full And Rose would surely have required industrial strength hallucinogenics to picture playing the last 11 holes in nine-under on a day when the Masters did not so much as bite back as gleefully devour so many big names. Dustin Johnson a 74, Rory McIlroy a 76, Bryson DeChambeau a 76, Lee Westwood a 78. It verged on carnage. But Rose hit the treacherous fast-and-firm layout running and by the end was in full sprint, with one of the greatest stretches in British golf history. Yes, it was only Thursday, but that closing three hours should always be recalled. The 40 year-old was two-over after seven holes and seemingly highly unlikely to trouble the clubhouse leaders – American Brian Harmon and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. But then Rose emerged in full and outrageous bloom. The 2013 US Open champion caught a break on the par-five eighth, when his approach bounced kindly off the bank on the left before coming to rest within 15 feet. Rose holed for an eagle and proceeded to soar. His tee shot to four feet on the famous par-three 12th was class, his approach to kick-in distance on the 17th probably even better. Rose was in the zone, a zone nobody else came close to entering all day. “I guess the good news is I don’t know what happened, and that’s often when you play your best golf,” he said. “You get into that nice bit of flow or whatever we look for. I didn’t panic – that was the most important thing. Obviously being two-over through seven, even though I saw a few red numbers on the board, I still knew that this was a day not to play yourself out of the tournament. “The course had a lot of teeth to it, but the pins were relatively fair, so good golf shots were rewarded. Listen, to be nine-under from my last 11… well, you can never quite see that coming here. You have to respect this course so much more now then you had to five months ago.” Didn’t they just. Remember, remember the gift of November. The green jackets certainly did as they set up the National in brutal fashion to exact pay-back for the 2020 Masters. From very soft to very, very hard. Alister MacKenzie’s creation munched huge chunks out of some of the game’s biggest names on a first day when a US Open broke out in Georgia. McIlroy’s worst opening to this major featured him hitting his father with an errant shot on the seventh. And golf says that Pa is your friend?!