Justin Rose isn’t quite on top of the world yet, but he is on top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Open and that’s good enough for now.
“I wouldn’t say it’s exhilarating, because I feel like my mind-set is I am in a 72-hole tournament,” Rose said Thursday evening under cool, slate-gray skies just off the 18th green. “This is just a very small step toward the outcome. So you don’t feel like that buzz that you would on a Sunday.
“But you can't help but look around over your shoulder, and damn, this is Pebble Beach. Shot 65 and you’re in the U.S. Open. It’s a cool moment. Whatever transpires the rest of the week, it was a cool moment.”
Rose started his round par, par, par, but finished birdie, birdie, birdie to inch ahead of the four-way logjam of Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louie Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise at five under.
His 65 tied Tiger Woods for the best U.S. Open round at Pebble Beach, and the Englishman did it in a group with Woods, who attracted his traditional massive gallery. Rose, who played with Woods at the Memorial two weeks ago, wasn’t rattled by the crowds, but he definitely noticed them.
“The crowds were big, huge, six or seven deep, pretty much all the way,” he said. “So there's the obvious noise. I had to hit some shots where I didn’t quite have the setup or the peace and quiet that I would normally hit a golf shot under. I had to try to keep pushing that. But you play late on a Sunday afternoon, it's noisy. It’s what you want.”
This is a guy who can perform under pressure. Six years ago, he won the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., edging Phil Mickelson and Jason Day by a stroke.
Woods shot a one-under 70, which he was relatively pleased with considering he wasn’t hitting his irons as crisply as he would have liked. He did a good job of staying beneath the hole and avoiding downhill putts, however.
“That’s the key to playing this golf course,” Woods said. “You can’t be past the flag.”
A year after players complained about unfair course conditions at Shinnecock Hills, mostly because of greens that were dry and hard as slate, the U.S. Golf Assn. was determined to avoid an encore at Pebble Beach. The greens were soft and receptive, and the round featured a record 17 eagles. The overcast and misty weather helped, and the winds didn’t pick up too much during the course of the day.
“I thought the course might play a little tougher this afternoon than it actually did,” Rose said.
According to Fox, the five rounds of 66 or lower is a record for U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach. There were three such rounds in 2010, two in 2000 and 1992, and zero in 1982 and 1972.
Rose didn’t have overpowering length off the tee, nor was he deadly accurate on his approaches, hitting just nine greens in regulation.
But he was 15 of 15 on putts inside of 10 feet, having changed his putting style and equipment since he was ranked 122nd on tour in putting two years ago.
Brooks Koepka, who has won the past two U.S. Opens, finished the first round tied for 16th at two under.
The unflappable Koepka, who won the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last month, said he’s becoming more ease in major championships, which has to be unnerving to his competition.
“You definitely get more comfortable,” he said. “And I have a lot of confidence, there's no doubt of that. It's becoming easier and easier as I keep playing them.”