PGA Championship: Justin Rose continues comeback with 69-70 start at Oak Hill

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — With so much attention paid to younger European stars like Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, it’s easy to forget that England’s Justin Rose, who is now 42, was one of the elite ball strikers in golf just a few years ago. He possessed a fantastic blend of power with consistency, both off the tee and from the fairway, and those traits helped him win the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, along with seven PGA Tour events between 2010 and 2015. He won the 2018 FedEx Cup and attained the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking. His shortcoming was putting, but when he caught a hot week with his putter, Rose was almost unbeatable.

Then a series of injuries sidetracked Rose, including a back injury that forced him to withdraw from the 150th British Open at St. Andrews.

But while his results faltered (Rose missed five cuts in 18 PGA Tour events last season and recorded just two top 10s), his game was actually improving and in February, Rose broke through at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am to earn his first PGA Tour victory since the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open.

2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Justin Rose poses with the trophy on the 18th hole during the continuation of the final round of the 2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links. (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Now, at Oak Hill Country Club, he is flashing the form of a player who might be able to contend again at a major. Rose shot 70 in the second round of the PGA Championship and heads into the weekend at 1 under par. With rain and wind expected on Saturday, he’s in contention.

“I think, historically, I’ve won typically on harder golf courses than not, so I think [Oak Hill] fits my profile from that point of view,” Rose said after signing his card Friday. “This is right up there. This is kind of, it feels a little bit of a hybrid kind of PGA-U.S. Open, yeah, this week. Looking forward to the test.”

Ironically, while great ball striking was the hallmark of Rose’s game since he turned pro in 1999, his putting has been his strength in recent years. As you can see in the chart below, he has consistently been among the best putters on the PGA Tour for the last three seasons. Now healthy, his iron game is returning to form, and that could make him a contender at Oak Hill.

Rose’s win at Pebble Beach also carries weight here in Rochester. When he was asked if winning in February gave him confidence.

“Just proving that you can win again, I felt, was the biggest thing for me,” he said. “Not necessarily just winning, but how I won. I felt very, very comfortable once I kind of got into that winning position, and it was kind of clear that it was going to be right now or never. I kind of really settled into it well. I feel like that was kind of the biggest learning at Pebble. Those conditions versus these conditions, I think they’re completely different. This is a whole other test. But yeah, just I’ve done it before, and just the fact of knowing I can do it again is important.”

A loose pitch shot on the sixth hole lead to a bogey on Friday, and his tee shot went into the left rough on the seventh, leading to another bogey. For the day, he hit just one of 14 fairways off the tee, and when he was asked how he could shoot 70 hitting only one fairway he laughed and said, “Smoke and mirrors, I guess.”

Smoke and mirrors won’t work for 36 more holes, but if Rose continues to putt well and can straighten out his driving, he has proven that he remembers how to win.

“This is just going to be four days of kind of getting the most out of each day.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek