Justin Rose was just eight years old when he stood in front of a mirror at his home in England and posed the finish of his golf swing.
“Just to see what it would look like on a magazine cover,” he said.
Since turning professional 21 years ago, Rose has hoisted his share of trophies, winning the 2013 US Open, the first Olympic gold medal handed out in golf in 112 years, and in picking up his 10th PGA Tour title at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, marking the 10th consecutive year he’s had a victory somewhere in the world.
But Rose, after a 1-under 70 in the second round of the 119th US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, is focused solely on wining a second major championship trophy.
“I still have some work to do,” Rose said.
“I need to find that next gear if I’m going to lift that silverware on Sunday.”
It’s mind boggling to think that he’s been a pro for more than 20 years and he isn’t even 40 — and playing the best golf of his life at this stage in his career.
“Watching the evolution of Justin Rose, he really has been a lifelong learner,” Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said. “It looked like it might come easy to him early in his career. It certainly didn’t. He’s put the pieces of his swing together. He’s put the pieces of his mind, his psyche together.”
Rose, 38, is known for his ball-striking prowess, but on Thursday his putting was something to behold. He took only 22 putts using the claw putting grip he committed to after putting poorly at the 2016 Ryder Cup and adopting the principles espoused by putting coach Phil Kenyon.
“I think he’s become one of the best green readers in golf,” Rose’s swing instructor Sean Foley said. “I’ve watched him work at it. It’s been like making $100 by putting a penny every day in a bottle. He’s been that diligent.”
On an overcast Friday when the mercury didn’t crack 15 degrees Celsius, Rose played more textbook US Open golf, needing 28 putts on the green. He excels at the toughest of venues, where the winning score is single digits, and a great round of golf is rewarded but shooting par won’t get him lapped by the field. He had a clean card on his first nine at Pebble, and tacked on birdies at Nos. 15 and 18. Rose bounced back from a tough lip-out bogey at No. 1 by knocking a 7-iron from 188 yards at the second inside 5 feet.
Rose’s only costly hiccup was blocking an iron off the tee at the fourth hole into the penalty area and making bogey.
Rose’s closest competitor in the morning wave of the second round was American Aaron Wise, who doesn’t turn 23 until next Friday.
Wise, the 2018 PGA Tour rookie of the year, followed up a 66 on Thursday with a rollercoaster round of even-par 71 in the second round that left him tied with Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen, who were all teeing off in the afternoon wave.
“The hardest part of playing an Open, especially when you’re playing well and maybe not having your best day, is staying patient and not trying to force things,” Wise said.
“I felt I did an amazing job.”
Defending champion Brooks Koepka isn’t going to give up the trophy without a fight. Koepka struck the ball better and matched his opening round score of 69 to become the first defending champion to open his title defence with back-to-back rounds in the 60s since Scott Simpson in 1988. The putter betrayed him from going even lower on Friday, but Koepka shrugged it off.
“I feel great. I’m excited. I’ve got a chance. That’s all you can ask for,” Koepka said. “I just need to make a few putts. Sometimes the hole just needs to open up.”
Koepka was part of a logjam of finishers at 4 under, which included Americans Matt Kuchar (69), and Chesson Hadley and Chez Reavie with 70s. Koepka appears to be in striking distance heading into the weekend to win a fifth major, second in a row and third straight US Open title. It’s heady stuff.
“His strength isn’t his strength. It’s his intestinal fortitude,” said Fox TV commentator Paul Azinger.
Tiger Woods was bogey-free until his final two holes on Friday, but he couldn’t take advantage of hitting wedge into eight holes. It was a combination of spotty iron play and a balky putter that let him down. He made just one birdie and shot 1-over 72 to trail Rose by seven strokes.
“He simply needs to hit his irons more like Tiger Woods,” David Duval said. “I just wonder if a little bit of the coolness and the dampness did affect his body and his freedom of movement. But he’s still in the golf tournament. If he manages to tighten these things up, look out.”