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Justin Rose plays to his strengths to take lead at Torrey Pines

Justin Rose plays to his strengths to take lead at Torrey Pines
Justin Rose hits a chip shot during the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Friday. (Robert Laberge / Getty Images)

If a golf course and player were seemingly made for each other, Justin Rose and the Torrey Pines South Course should have always been a happy couple.

Narrow fairways, deep rough, and tucked pins that beckon a disastrous miss — they are conditions that are advantageous elements for a supreme ball striker, former U.S. Open champion and current No. 1 player in the world.

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Surprisingly, though, there was a disconnect here for Rose.

In his first five tries in the Farmers Insurance Open, which he didn’t put on his schedule until 2010, the Englishman couldn’t finish better than 22nd and missed the cut in back-to-back efforts in 2015-16.

It’s a wonder he didn’t forsake Torrey for greener pastures.

The potential for greatness kept Rose coming back, and with the missing piece to his game — better putting — found, Rose is now the complete player that Torrey South demands.

For the third straight year, Rose enters the Farmers Open weekend with a strong shot at winning after he followed an opening nine-under-par 63 on the North Course with a six-under 66 on the South on Friday to build a three-shot lead.

With two rounds left on the track that hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and again is scheduled for it in 2021, Hideki Matsuyama is alone in second at 12 under, having matched Rose with his own second-round 66 on the South.

The South befuddled others.

First-round leader Jon Rahm, who fired 62 on the North in the first round, at one point flung a club in disgust and could only score an even-par 72 on the South. He was tied for third at 10 under with Ryan Palmer (67, North), who lost in last year’s playoff won by Jason Day, and Billy Horschel (68, South).

Rory McIlroy had a 65 on the North to get to eight under, but Jordan Spieth could shoot no better than par on the South and is at seven under.

Here for the weekend but hardly contending is Tiger Woods. He made the cut in his first start of the season, but managed only a two-under 70 on the North and at four under was 11 shots off the lead.

Rose is in rare territory at Torrey. His 15-under 129 total tied the tournament record held by two players — Tom Lehman, who accomplished the feat in 2005 after the South’s renovation in 2001, and Lennie Clements, who first set the mark in 1996.

Interestingly, neither of those men went on to win the tournament, and Rose will be battling memories of his own bouts with the wheels going wobbly while in contention. Fifteen times he has held at least a share of the lead in his nine-win PGA Tour career, and only four times has he lifted a trophy.

The 38-year-old held the Farmers midpoint lead in 2017 and eventually tied for fourth. He tied for eighth last year.

“Listen, halfway point,” Rose said. “If I had a three-shot lead going into Sunday, then it would be worth kind of thinking about game plan and strategy. But as of now, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

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Rose has suffered only one bogey this week — on the South’s par-four seventh. It didn’t faze him much, since he made three straight birdies leading up to it.

Rose has hit all but four of 36 greens to lead the field in strokes gained (5.5) from tee to green.

“It puts more of a premium on ball striking, I think, which sort of does fit my profile,” Rose said of the South Course. “Any time there’s more of a favor to ball striking, it gives me more benefit, rather than last week [in the Desert Classic] when you could argue it was more of a putting competition.”

Over the seven times that Woods won the Farmers, he never went particularly low on the North Course, and he couldn’t do it again Friday.

Woods’ 70 matched his score from the more difficult South on Thursday, and it was fashioned in much the same way. He hit the same amount of fairways (seven) and one more green (13), but needed one more putt (29).

He ranks 43rd in the field in strokes gained putting over the first two rounds and has lived on the edge of the cup. In the second round, his ball spun off the lip on three putts and one chip.

“Those putts go in and I’m five, six under par, easily,” Woods said.

He later added, “I’m hitting good putts. We were talking about it today. If I just continue hitting good putts, eventually they’ll go in boatloads.”

The shot that most damaged Woods’ second round came from the middle of the fairway. At the par-four 18th — his ninth hole of the day — Woods hooked an eight-iron into a plugged lie under the lip of the greenside bunker.

Taking an awkward, precarious-looking stance for man with fused vertebrae in his back, Woods slashed out to the fringe. His chip was too hard and he missed the comebacker to make double bogey.

That created the dreaded cut watch, though Woods pulled back from the brink with birdies at Nos. 3 and 4.

He had two par-fives and a driveable par-four in front of him, but he didn’t make another birdie.

Examining his chances for the weekend, Woods didn’t have much choice but to take the long view.

“It’s going to have to be over a course of 36 holes to get myself back in this event,” said Woods, who is relegated to going off the 10th tee at 8:10 a.m. on Saturday with Scott Stallings and Mackenzie Hughes. “It’s going to have to be a very low and special weekend to have a chance.”

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