WHAT a difference 144 days make. Remember, remember, The Masters in November? It seemed a distant memory yesterday as Augusta National, humbled by Dustin Johnson’s 20-under saunter on the soft stuff just five months ago, wreaked a terrible vengeance.

Not on Justin Rose, though. His magical 65 on a day of toil and trouble for all and sundry propelled him into a four stroke advantage. It was magical stuff.

The high-heid yins of this particular parish had said in the build-up to the 85th edition of their tournament that they had the course “right where we want it” in terms of a firm, fast test. And, my goodness, they were right.

The greens seemed to be so quick, you half expected the Georgia State Police to set up speed restrictions with bollards. Miss them in the wrong place and you were faced with the kind of dodgy chips you’d eat on the late bus home after a night of jovial excess in the pub. When pubs were open, of course.

On the first day of the Covid-enforced oddity that was the 2020 Masters, some 24 players posted a score in the 60s. There was no chance of that yesterday as Augusta bore more teeth than Christopher Lee in a Hammer Horror box-set.

Welsh veteran Ian Woosnam, 30 years on from his 1991 triumph, had his own views on the general scene. “I went on that first green and thought ‘what’s happened here?’” said the 63-year-old after a battling 76 during which he aggravated a groin injury. “It looked like glass. This is about as fast as I’ve seen it.” No wonder Woosie had a groin niggle.

Sergio Garcia, the champion in 2017, took some sore ones too in his 76. “I fought hard, but I feel like I just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield,” he said after being left feeling punch drunk.

Poor old Sandy Lyle, in his 40th Masters appearance, must have felt even worse after a debris-strewn 81.

Augusta would leave plenty nursing various aches and pains on an unforgiving, exacting day that required patience, poise, mental fortitude and the courage of the golfing convictions. It was not for the faint-hearted and it made for a fascinating spectacle.

Those who dipped under-par just about got a ticker-tape parade up the 18th. Brian Harman’s three-under 69 which set an early standard was burnished by a terrific finale which included three birdies on his last six holes. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, a decade on from making his Masters debut as an amateur, illuminated his 69 with an eagle on the eighth.

With four top-15 finishes in his Masters career, the 29-year-old from the land of the rising sun certainly made hay while that big fiery orb in the Georgia sky shone. 

Nobody made it more than Rose, though. His thrilling seven-under card was a stupendous effort on a day when only 12 players finished under-par. It was his best score in 59 rounds at The Masters.

The 40-year-old, who hadn’t played competitively for over a month, was two-over through seven holes but mounted a quite jaw-dropping thrust with a back-nine of 30 which left the rest wheezing on behind.

"Even though I saw red numbers on the board I didn't panic when I was two over through seven, that's the most important thing,” said Rose, who birdied five of his last seven holes in a finish that grandstands were invented for. "I knew it was a day not to play yourself out of the tournament, the course had a lot of teeth to it.”

Rose put everyone in the shade. Patrick Reed, the champion in 2018, opened with a 70 while the resurgent Jordan Spieth chipped in for eagle on the 15th in a 71. Justin Thomas, the world No 2, ended the day one over, with US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau down on four-over.

As for the defending champion Johnson? Well, a bogey on the first was hardly a rousing start but he kept the head on a day when it would’ve been easy to lose it. A fine chip-in up the hill on the 11th for birdie led to a significant fist-pump and another birdie on 13 got him under-par. Johnson had dropped just four shots in 72-holes during his imperious march to the green jacket in November. Within three holes of the run-in, though, he leaked three.

A bogey on 16 was followed by a grisly double-bogey on the last in a two-over 74. It was, by no means, a disastrous start, however. “It’s not terrible,” he reasoned in a succinct summing up of affairs. “I would’ve liked to have finished better but I’m still right in it.”

In many ways, it was a day for damage limitation. Rory McIlroy suffered a few dents and dunts, however, with a 76. His dad, Gerry, was lucky he never suffered more grievous harm when one of his son’s errant shots hit him on the leg as he walked behind the ropes.

McIlroy’s well-documented, first round major malaise continued and his assault on the career grand slam was already behind the eight-ball after another toiling opening 18. His four-over card was his worst first round score in 13 Masters appearances.

The sight of him holding his head in his hands after plonking his approach at the 13th into the creek was a familiar scene of agonised, self-flagellation.

On the home front, meanwhile, Glasgow’s Martin Laird, making his fourth Masters appearance and a first since 2013, signed for a decent enough 74. Robert MacIntyre, the Oban debutant, had an eventful time of it and fought to the bitter end in a brave 74.

A wonderfully executed flop-shot on the 17th dropped into the hole for a fifth birdie on a card that had featured four bogeys in a row from the eighth. A canny par up the last, polished off with a sturdy, five-footer for his four, was a good’s day’s work.

It had been a tough old shift for everybody. Rose made it look easy, though.