Justin Rose resists urge to press panic button as he retains Masters lead
With a four-shot lead heading into Friday’s play following a seven-under 65 opening round, the full beam of the spotlight was on the 40-year-old Englishman.
That heat intensified on his front nine, with the two-time Augusta runner-up three over par after only seven holes.
Yet Rose refused to cave into growing doubt that he could back up his first-day heroics with another eye-catching performance.
Reverting to a ‘match-play’ approach against the course, the remaining 11 holes were played at three-under – with all three birdies coming on the back nine.
It might not have been the sensational 65 recorded less than 24 hours previous, but his level-par 72 was just as important as the Hampshire-raised ace ensured his place at the top of the leaderboard remained intact.
‘I was waiting for sure (for the round to kick-start into gear), but it seemed a little more elusive today, no doubt,’ admitted Rose.
‘I was joking, the finger was heading towards the panic button a little bit.
‘But I had a little talk with myself on eight and said you're still leading the Masters and I just changed my mindset a little bit and started to play match-play against the golf course.
‘I scratched a line on my scorecard and told myself I was three down and could I go ahead and beat the golf course from that point on.
‘I had a putt on 18 to win my match one-up, but unfortunately it just slipped by. But an honourable draw!’
The 2013 US Open winner went into this year’s Masters with no real form to speak of and with a month free of competition in the build-up.
That’s why the now world-ranked No41 Ryder Cup star arrived at Augusta somewhat under the radar – and just as surprised as most by his best-ever round at the historic Georgia course.
Expectation levels shot up, though, after his statement start.
Yet Rose admitted that prospect never daunted him.
Instead, he visualised it as an opportunity to play with freedom and to use it to his advantage with the weekend in mind.
The 2015 and 2017 runner-up said: ‘My mindset was to be free, to go out there and play as free of golf as I could because I felt that having the opportunity to play with a lead from day one could play in my favour come Sunday. You get used to it.
‘Obviously the scorecard didn't reflect that mindset, but it was still a good exercise for me to stick with today.
‘I felt like I actually did a pretty good job with that.
‘I had a lot of tough four-foot putts today - to save bogeys, to save pars. And I really kept the momentum going on the front nine, even though the scorecard wouldn't reflect that.
‘I felt there were some key moments in that front nine where I was pretty proud of myself for just keeping things ticking forward.
‘I felt like I grew a little bit from today, which is good.’
Rose goes into moving day on seven under – one clear of rookie Will Zalatoris (68) and Brian Harmon (69).
Jordan Spieth (68) – the 2015 winner – and Marc Leishman (67) are two back on five under.
Rory McIlroy, however, won’t be involved over the weekend as he missed the cut by three strokes.
He could only shoot a second-round 74, following an opening day 76, which left him six over and heading home alongside reigning champion Dustin Johnston (+5).