Rose gives back another Masters lead, still has chance to finish on top

Justin Rose reacts to a missed eagle putt on the eighth hole during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday, April 10, 2021, in Augusta. Also pictured is Will Zalatoris. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Justin Rose reacts to a missed eagle putt on the eighth hole during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday, April 10, 2021, in Augusta. Also pictured is Will Zalatoris. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

The people operating the leaderboards at Augusta National have been grabbing Justin Rose’s nameplate for years. For just as long the engraver hasn’t etched Rose’s name on the Masters trophy, which also is from England.

Rose might have to wait another year after giving back another lead.

Rose had the second-biggest advantage ever after one round at the Masters on Thursday. He squandered that four-shot advantage during his Friday round. Rose still managed to hold a two-shot lead to begin Saturday’s play. He was four shots behind Hideki Matusyama (-11) when the weather-delayed third round ended as darkness arrived.

ExploreAJC photos: The third round of the Masters

Matsuyama enters Sunday with a big advantage. He’ll likely feel the pressure of trying to become the first men’s major championship winner from Japan. Rose has the better resume in majors. He’s also got the burden of coming close so many times at Augusta with no green jacket to show for it.

This year is the fourth time Rose had the lead after one round at the Masters. It’s the second year he’s had the 36-hole lead. Rose was tied for the lead after three rounds of the 2017 Masters. He led outright late in the final round before faltering.

That year, Rose shot 31 on the back nine in the third round to surge into a tie with Sergio Garcia. Rose was up two strokes with six holes to play and up one stroke with two holes left. He left an opening for Garcia by missing a par putt at No. 17 and a birdie try at No. 18.

The players went to a playoff, starting at No. 18. Rose hit his drive into the trees and had to punch out. Garcia went on to birdie for his first major championship. Rose acknowledged the tournament was “one that slipped by” but predicted he would have more chances to win the Masters.

This is his best chance since then. Rose tied for 12th in 2018, missed the cut in 2019 and tied for 23rd in 2020. Rose has been better in other majors: tied for second at the 2018 British Open, tied for third at the 2019 U.S. Open. But not many guys are winning majors in their 40s, so who knows when or if Rose will get another chance as good as this.

Rose is a late bloomer, at least by today’s standards of young guys winning all the time. He missed 21 consecutive cuts to begin his career on the European Tour. Rose eventually won multiple times on that circuit. He struggled in American events and at one point contemplated going back to playing the European Tour full time.

Then Rose started winning here, too. His biggest victory was at the 2013 U.S. Open. Rose went stroke-for-stroke with Phil Mickelson and came out on top. That’s back when Mickelson was regularly contending for major championships. “Lefty” doesn’t do that anymore. “Rosey” does, but he hasn’t won another major.

Rose was great at Augusta in 2015. Jordan Spieth was better. Rose and Mickelson both shot 14-under. Spieth was 18-under, at the time tied with Tiger Woods for the best-ever score at Augusta. It was a bad time for Rose’s best week at Augusta. At least Mickelson already had three green jackets.

Rose might again be the victim of bad timing. For most of Saturday Matsuyama was bunched up with several others behind Rose on the leaderboard. Matsuyama got hot after the restart. He eagled the par-5 15th and birdied Nos. 16 and 17.

Just like that, Matsuyama headed to the clubhouse with a three-shot advantage over Rose. Matsuyama’s 65 is his best score in 37 rounds at the Masters. It was a week after Japanese teenager Tsubasa Kajitani won the Women’s Amateur last weekend.

“It was fantastic,” Matsuyama said, via an interpreter, of Kajitani’s victory. “I hope I can follow in her footsteps and make Japan proud.”

Explore2021 Masters leaderboard

Rose is among four golfers within four strokes of Matsuyama. He’s the only major championship winner of the bunch. Xander Schauffele finished tied for second at the 2019 Masters behind Tiger Woods. March Leishman’s best Masters finish was a tie for fourth in 2013. Will Zalatoris is making his first start.

Spieth is six shots back of Matsuyama after shooting even-par 72 on Saturday. He followed his 2015 Masters win with a U.S. Open championship that year. Spieth won the 2017 British Open before enduring a years-long slump that ended with a victory in Texas last weekend.

Rose opened the week with a 65 and has been backsliding since. He bogeyed four of his first seven holes on Friday. Rose recovered to finish with a 72 and a one-shot lead over Zalatoris and Brian Harman and two clear of Spieth. Rose held off those challengers on Saturday, but Matsuayama leapfrogged everyone.

Rose’s name again will be on the leaderboard for a Sunday at Augusta. It’s never been on top when it’s over. This is another chance for Rose to finally finish with the lead at Augusta after holding it.

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