AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s one of the great mysteries in golf.
For the best players in the world, backing up one great round with another one the next day is rarely done. It remains one of the most vexing elements in the sport.
Justin Rose looked like he was playing a different golf course than the other 87 players in the Masters field in Thursday’s opening round, when he posted a 7-under 65 that left him four shots clear of his nearest competitors on a day when the rest of the field was averaging some nine shots higher than his score.
Then, in Friday’s second round, Rose looked like a different player at Augusta National on his first seven holes of the day, wasting away that large lead he’d built.
Rose, to his credit, recovered to shoot an even-par 72 and maintain his lead entering the weekend, but his early struggles let much of the field back into the tournament.
Impressive 24-year-old Masters rookie Will Zalatoris, who shot 68 Friday, and Brian Harmon (69) now trail Rose by only one shot, both at 6-under. Jordan Spieth (68) and Marc Leishman (67) are 5-under, two shots back.
Among those at 4-under are Tony Finau (66), Justin Thomas (67), Cameron Champ (68), Bernd Wiesberger (67) and Si Woo Kim (69), who snapped his putter out of anger on the 15th green and putted with his 3-wood on the way home.
So, in the span of one day, Rose’s inability back up his sterling opening round with another one Friday has set up the final 36 holes of this Masters as a frenetic race to the finish. And Rose was left wondering where his amazing form went.
“It is hard,’’ Rose said. “We haven’t quite figured out that dynamic, otherwise, we’d do a better job that second day. My mindset today was to be free. Obviously, the scorecard didn’t reflect that mindset, but it was still a good exercise for me to stick with. It seemed a little more elusive today, no doubt.’’
By the time Rose walked off the seventh hole, he’d gone from 7-under to 4-under and had lost his big lead. In two days, he’s 5-over on the first seven holes and 12-under on the final 11.
As Rose’s lead evaporated, many of the other players, who might have begun the day believing they were too far back to contend, became energized.
“It’s hard to play that well two days in a row,’’ Justin Thomas said. “It’s the same reason you don’t see guys have 60-point games of basketball back-to-back nights. It’s hard for you to not expect it in yourself because you just did it, but in reality, this game is so humbling that you really have to forget about it.’’
One of the elements to Rose’s success Thursday was the fact he conceded he’d arrived at Augusta without a lot of expectations because he hadn’t played a tournament in more than a month.
“It’s going to be easier to play if you got little to lose,’’ Francesco Molinari said. “You play more free and you hit better shots. When you have a really low round, the next day you probably think to steer the ball a bit more and almost try a little bit too hard. I think that’s a psychological element to it.’’
A couple of players pointed out how often good breaks come into play in a low round. Indeed, Rose got a major break Thursday playing t he eighth hole. His second shot took a fortuitous bounce off some mounds to leave him with a short eagle putt, which he made to ignite his run.
“Typically, when you get something going like 9-under through 11[-under] on a windy, firm Augusta … you are either making a lot of long putts or you get a couple good breaks or a combination of the two,’’ Spieth said. “I think just trying to look at every day as a new day is probably the easiest way. You almost want to throw out the good and the bad rounds, remember how good things feel, but the super good ones you don’t want to necessarily try and chase. It’s a challenge.’’
Said Bryson DeChambeau: “For the most part, whenever somebody shoots a really, really low score, you’re going to have to have good breaks to go low. Sometimes golf is not friendly, and it can turn on you real quick.’’
Golf turned on Rose early, but he gathered himself after a bogey on No. 7.
“The finger was heading towards the panic button a little bit,’’ Rose conceded. “But I had a little talk with myself on 8 and said, ‘You’re still leading the Masters, your frame of reference is a little bit different to yesterday. Four ahead is something, but you’re still leading so just enjoy it and keep going.’
“I was able to do that. Today was always going to be a challenging day. I felt like in the end, I grew a little bit from today.’’