PGA Championship: Justin Rose off to bumpy start in Big Apple

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

PGA Championship: Justin Rose off to bumpy start in Big Apple

PGA Championship

PGA Championship: Justin Rose off to bumpy start in Big Apple

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – New Yorkers respect Justin Rose, and they applauded politely when he walked onto the tee boxes Thursday at Bethpage Black, but Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler played alongside the Englishman in the first round of the PGA Championship today, and they’re crowd favorites. Shouts of “Bubba!” and squeals for Rickie rained down on the group. Rose was the obvious third wheel.

It’s a big week for the 38-year-old who drove up Magnolia Lane last month ranked No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking before the start of the Masters. He wound up driving in the opposite direction, toward the airport, on Friday evening after missing the cut at the season’s first major.

It was a shocking result because Rose’s game is built on consistency. His swing has been honed over the years of training on the range and in the gym. When he shakes your hand, you can feel the calluses. The upper half of his forehead, typically hidden under a hat, lacks the tan that his face and neck have.

Brooks Koepka, who shot a course-record 63, made it look easy on Thursday, but ask the other 155 players in the field how challenging Bethpage Black was today and they’ll tell you it was a stern test. Rose, like many, had an up and down day and wound up shooting an even-par 70.

“There were birdies out there, I think I had three or four,” he said. “I feel like it was a good start, a steady start and something I can build on for the rest of the week.”

Sure, carding a 63 like Koepka would have been great, or a 3-under 67 like fellow Brit Tommy Fleetwood, but Rose is patient and has learned over the years to avoid being overly eager early in majors.

“Two over par through four holes was not the ideal start, but I tried to just keep putting one foot in front of another,” he said. “My mentality today was that if I drive it in the rough, trust my short game, trust my wedge play and don’t compound errors. Trust that over 72 holes I’m going to hit enough good shots to get myself in position.”

He also knows the course suits his style.

“I love it like this, you’ve got to work for your birdies,” Rose said.

He’s one of the best iron players of his generation, and while his numbers have slipped a touch over the last few seasons, he still entered this week ranked No. 13 in strokes gained approach the green, a measure a player’s prowess with his irons and long clubs.

Keeping it straight

“You’ve got make quality golf shots to make birdies out here.”

Rose hit nine of 14 fairways on Thursday but hitting just 11 of 18 greens in regulation put pressure on his short game and putting.  The putter held up, but he was not able to get up and down often enough from the rough and sand, successfully scrambling just four of seven times.

If he was frustrated, he didn’t show it. After signing his card, he answered questions with his customary thoughtfulness, smiled and even stopped to sign a flag for another player’s caddie near the practice green as he walked to the clubhouse.

Rose said earlier this week that he felt his game peaked on the Tuesday of Masters week and then dropped off as the tournament started. To avoid a repeat of that problem, he tweaked his approach and came to Bethpage more mentally refreshed and rested.

“The first round has come up on me quite quickly, which is exciting, and I was ready to play this morning,” Rose said.

Make no mistake, Rose is willing to play his game and wait out the competition. He has no intention of hitting the Southern State Parkway and driving to JFK International Airport before Sunday evening.

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