It is not usually this stress-free for Justin Rose, who is strolling into serious contention at Royal Portrush. At Carnoustie, 12 months ago, he made the cut only thanks to an 18-foot putt at the last. He promptly went out the next day and shot 64, followed it up with a 69 and finished tied for second.
This time around, his path to the weekend has been serene and, after his second-round 67 left him at six under, laid-back Rose said he welcomed the fresh sense of expectation on his shoulders.
“I’m probably one of the best players in the world and there should be expectation when you’re in contention to be able to continue to play well in that situation,” said Rose, who is among the leading pack of Englishmen, a shot behind Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood. “But [is there too much expectation? No, I don’t think so. I should go out and be who I am and be comfortable with it tomorrow.”
Having exploded on to the scene as a teenager, Rose’s Open record in recent years has been patchy. The 2013 US Open victory remains his solitary major, but confidence has been restored by a third-place finish at the US Open last month.
“I don’t think there’s any more expectation from outside than I have for myself,” he said. “I think when you have to deal with everyone else’s expectation and it’s not in line with how you feel, that’s difficult. But I’m comfortable with how much I expect of myself and that makes it easier on Saturday and the next day.”
Rose credited his relaxed disposition with taking a month off in February. “The whole idea behind that was to be fresh enough for the majors and the big run of golf we’re all in,” he said. “It didn’t really pan out the first couple of majors but hopefully I’m benefiting from it now. Whether it leads to the performance we want, we’ll wait and see. But scheduling-wise, I’ve tried to create that.”
Rose said he is proud of the early progress made by his fellow Englishmen at the course. “I was very aware Tommy [Fleetwood] posted a good round and saw a clip of him birdieing 18 while I was out there. And Westie had a strong finish and crept up on the leaderboard.”
It was not such a day of fresh optimism for England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who discovered precisely why the 16th hole at Royal Portrush is called “Calamity”. Hatton played the first 12 holes of his second round in three under par before dropping a shot on the 14th and then making a double bogey on the 230-yard 16th in a second round of 71.
The 27-year-old Ryder Cup star needed three shots to hack out of the thick rough to the right of the green and did well to limit the damage by holing from 15 feet.
“It’s a shame about 16,” said Hatton, who admits he has struggled for motivation since playing his part in Europe’s triumph over the United States in Paris last September. “I just leaked it a little bit on the wind. Tried my best to move the ball and couldn’t move it.”
Hatton had made the cut twice in his previous seven starts in the Open and was fifth at Royal Troon in 2016, albeit 16 shots behind winner Henrik Stenson.