It could be a psychological ploy, or maybe they truly believe it.
On Saturday afternoon at Torrey Pines, after Justin Rose forged a six-shot lead at one point and settled for a three-stroke margin heading into the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, his pursuers seemed to be happy to hand him the surfboard that goes to the champion.
“He’s feeling it,” said Adam Scott, who is alone in second. “He wants to take advantage of all of his good golf, and that’s why he’s running away with this thing.”
“Just playing for second place right now,” conceded Rory McIlroy, who would have to make up seven shots to draw even with Rose.
At face value, that seems rather logical, considering the world’s No. 1 player has managed his game so beautifully that he tied the 54-hole tournament record with an 18-under total.
But Rose isn’t lapping up the praise any more than he’s expecting to go deep into red figures Sunday.
Informed that his Florida neighbor Scott already pegged him to win, Rose broke into a big grin.
“Of course he does,” he said. “He’s deflecting from himself.”
With a three-under-par 69 in the third round played in front of enormous galleries, Rose put himself three shots in front of Scott, who started eagle-birdie in shooting the week’s low score on the South, 65, and four ahead of 2017 Farmers champion Jon Rahm (68).
This is why this tournament isn’t close to a lock:
Rose, a nine-time PGA Tour winner, has closed out with a victory in only four of his 14 chances with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
It’s the Torrey Pines South Course. Only one champion of the Farmers in the last decade has prevailed holding the third-round lead. His name? Tiger Woods.
Rose, 38, has confident players in his final-round threesome in Scott, the former Masters champion who has found his touch on the greens by putting with the flagstick in, and Rahm, who has four consecutive top-eight finishes worldwide.
As well as Rose has played, he hasn’t been perfect. After suffering only one bogey in the first two rounds, two bad hooks led to a pair of double bogeys Saturday.
The Englishman accumulated three penalty strokes in all, including at the par-five 18th when his aggressive approach with a three-wood came up short in the water, leading to bogey.
An oft-posed question is whether a player is more comfortable sitting on a big lead on a hard golf course or easy one.
“I think if it’s a Desert Classic-style lead, then you’ve got to go out and you’re not going to get yourself in much trouble,” Rose said. “There’s not much rough; you can get away with a few misses. … This golf course, I think it’s going to be more strategic. The pins, from what I can see … are going to be a tougher test.
“This course can get tough in a heartbeat.”
For being considered a consistent and rather methodical player, Rose played a wild third round in which he carded only eight pars. He wrote down two doubles, one eagle, six birdies and one bogey.
The eagle at the par-five, 615-yard ninth was the picture of jaw-dropping skill. After bombing a drive 330 yards down the middle, Rose launched a three-wood that carried close to 285 yards and settled 20 feet past the pin.
He made that putt, and when Rose followed with birdies at the par-three 11th and par-five 13th, he had a six-shot lead.
But Rose immediately gave two shots back on the dangerous par-four 14th, where he yanked his second shot into the mound behind the green, and his ball kicked into the canyon.
He made a similar mistake at the par-four fourth when he said he tried to get too much out of his fairway bunker shot. He delivered a gift to the cliffs below and made 6.
Rose bounced back to birdie the tough par-three 16th by making a 12-foot putt, and then finished with the bogey at 18.
“Pleased with how I responded to those occasions on the golf the course and rebuilt the round going forward,” Rose said.
At 38, Scott has four more career victories than Rose on the PGA Tour, the same amount of majors won (one), and both players suffered from balky putting through the years. It is the Australian who has seemingly struggled more, and experimented with an anchored grip (before it was banned in 2016) and now flagstick-in putting from even two feet, with the new rule this year.
Scott, who made seven birdies and an eagle Saturday, is trying to win for the first time since 2016, when he notched victories in the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship. He’d never played the Farmers Open before this week.
He went silent on the golf radar for a couple of years before contending with a solo third finish behind Brooks Koepka and Woods at last year’s PGA Championship.
“It was a bit of a grind leading up to that PGA Championship last year, and to get back in contention was definitely good for the confidence,” Scott said. “The other thing I took from it was it felt like that’s where I’m meant to be.”
Completely out of the contending conversation is Woods, who had to start on the 10th tee and shot one-under 71 after opening with a pair of 70s. The eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, who was tied for 48th at five under, actually salvaged the round when he birdied his final two holes, Nos. 8 and 9.
“Today was the best warmup,” Woods said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to hit it well on the golf course. I just didn’t quite have it with my iron game again, but drove it much better today.”