Justin Rose humbled a firm and fast Augusta National layout that wreaked havoc upon many of the world's top golfers, seizing a four-stroke lead on Thursday at the 85th Masters.

Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, birdied five of the last seven holes in shooting a seven-under par 65, his career-low score by two strokes in 59 Masters rounds.

The 40-year-old Englishman defied a lightning-fast layout that baffled his rivals by going nine-under over the last 11 holes, the best such Masters closing run by any golfer since 2004.

"The start was slow but a little bit of experience kicked in, knowing it was a tough day out here," Rose said. "I knew if I could keep it near par it would be a good day."

Rose, a Masters runner-up in 2015 and 2017, took the 18-hole lead for the fourth time in the green jacket fight, after 2004, 2007 and 2008.

"Even if I haven't got an arm in the jacket yet, I feel like I've been there to see what it's all about," Rose said.

Using a deft touch with irons and putter to solve the intimidating layout, Rose overcame bogeys at the first and seventh holes starting with an eagle at the par-5 eighth.

"Making eagle there was huge," Rose said.

Rose said he entered uncertain where his game stood, his last win coming in 2019 at Torrey Pines, but found form quickly from there.

Rose followed with back-to-back birdies at nine and 10, curling in a long putt at the latter, and managed the feat again in Amen Corner at the par-3 12th and par-5 13th, dropping his approaches within five feet.

He reeled off three more in a row, capped by a five-footer at 17, and closed with a par to match his second-best major round.

Rose's lead matched the second-best after 18 holes in Masters history, trailing only winner Craig Wood's record five strokes from 1941.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and American Brian Harman shared second on 69. Neither has ever won a major -- or any US PGA Tour event since 2017.

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Japan's Hideki Matsuyama putts on the 12th green in the first round of the 2021 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club / © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

"I've never seen the greens so firm and fast," 10th-time starter Matsuyama said. "It was like a new course for me playing today and I was fortunate to get it around well."

Sharing fourth on 70 were 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, 2012 US Open winner Webb Simpson, Masters debutant Will Zalatoris and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

Only 12 players finished under par as mistakes were magnified around the hard-baked greens with winds adding to the intense challenge.

Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson, trying to become only the fourth back-to-back winner, lipped out a two-foot putt at 18 to close with a double bogey and shoot 74.

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Defending champion Dustin Johnson lines up a putt in the first round of the 2021 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club / © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

"Conditions were very difficult," said Johnson. "I felt like I played pretty well. "The last hole left a little sour taste in my mouth.

"The greens are always challenging but the wind, too. It was gusting and blowing and pretty hard to judge."

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, seeking a victory to complete a career Grand Slam, was off to his worst Masters start with a 76.

"The par-5s you can birdie but then you have to be happy with giving yourself 25-, 30-footers every time," McIlroy said. "If you can do that, you've played a really good round."

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who had right knee surgery in March, opened with a 74.

"It can get pretty dicey out here if you put it in the wrong spot, the way these greens are," Koepka said.

- 'It was a battle' -

Third-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm, who only arrived Wednesday after being with his wife for the birth of their first child, closed with a bogey to shoot 72.

"It was a battle," Rahm said. "There was not one moment where I felt relaxed out there... everybody struggled."

Sergio Garcia, the 2017 champion from Spain, compared his 76 to a boxing bout.

"I feel like just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield, like a 12-round match," he said. "I need to go home and rest."

Also on 76 was 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose massive drive over the green into bushes at the par-3 fourth brought a double bogey.

England's Lee Westwood, trying to become the oldest Masters winner at age 47 after runner-up efforts last month at Bay Hill and the Players, opened on 78.

England's Tommy Fleetwood aced the 170-yard par-3 16th hole, the 32nd hole-in-one in Masters history, and shot 74.

Augusta National welcomed the first spectators at a major championship since 2019 after Covid-19 forced a ban on fans.