Rose puts McIlroy and Woods in the shade to storm up leaderboard in Florida
23:17 GMT, 9 March 2012
Justin Rose led at the halfway stage of the Honda Classic last week, only to get flattened over the weekend by the remorseless brilliance of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
Now the gifted Englishman has another chance to emerge from the shadows after a sublime 64 at Doral on Friday left him right where he needed to be at the halfway stage of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
On another blustery afternoon in Miami, Rose pieced together an eight birdie round that left him in second place on 11 under, trailing his playing partner Bubba Watson by a stroke.
On fire: Justin Rose impressed as he moved to within one shot of the lead
First round leader Adam Scott finished birdie, birdie for a 68 that left him two off the lead with Swede Peter Hanson on nine under and veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn and USPGA Champion Keegan Bradley on eight under.
It is a testament to the strength of the UK game in this golden era that Rose gets frequently overlooked, a harsh fate indeed given he’s become a fixture in the world’s top 25.
He is coached by Sean Foley, who has seen two of his other clients, Hunter Mahan and Woods, finish first and second in America these past two weeks. ‘Your short game is unbelievable right now and it is time you put everything together and shot a low number,’ he said to Rose before the start, words that read like a prophecy after the round.
Only one place separates Rose from Watson in the rankings and there was little to choose between them here as they traded birdies and eagles in an extraordinary exhibition of scoring. Their better ball score, would you believe, was 59.
Main man: Bubba Watson leads by one shot at the halfway stage
Part of the joy of watching them was the different manner in which they compiled their gains. There was Rose, a golfer’s golfer, with excellent technique and expert course management. And there was the self-taught Watson, who struck the ball as far as he could and then hit it close from wherever he found it.
Some of Watson’s drives with his pink-shafted, pink-headed driver provoked gasps of open-mouthed astonishment from the crowd. At the downwind 418 yard second hole his tee shot finished 20 yards short of the green. At the fourth, Rose nailed a drive into a crosswind 283 yards, only to see Watson’s howitzer finish 38 yards closer to the hole.
For most of the day it was Rose who held the upper hand. Beginning at the tenth, the 31 year old had five birdies in his first eight holes to move from tied fifth overnight to first. Back came Watson with the pair clearly feeding off one another.
Appropriately, Watson won the honours on this day with a marvellous blow, a five iron from 225 yards that finished just 6ft from the hole at the long 8th to set up an eagle three. Another three at the 9th, and he had fashioned a fabulous 62 to set the pace.
Contrasting fortunes: Luke Donald (left) enjoyed a successful second round but Rory McIlroy looked off form
What would Watson have to say about that What we didn’t expect was to hear him say derogatory things about the course he had just ripped apart, and claim it ‘doesn’t fit my eye.’
He certainly fooled everyone watching. ‘I think if you’re hitting the ball well, it doesn’t matter if you like the course or not, you can score well on it,’ he argued.
Before going out, Rose had talked of his intent to post a low number as it was his wife Kate’s birthday and here he ensured it was a happy one.
‘It was nice to be part of such a hot pairing,’ said Rose. ‘He has shots in his locker I don’t have but I kept my focus and holed some good putts.’
Work to be done: Tiger Woods lies seven shots off the lead at the halfway stage
Pity the third member of the group, American Mark Wilson, who shot 70 and must have felt like he had been trampled by a steamroller. ‘I said to him, dude, you must be a bit black and blue!’ said Rose, laughing.
What about the UK players at the top of the world rankings, and the two Americans Woods and Phil Mickelson who commanded the biggest galleries On this day, all were upstaged.
World No 1 Rory McIlroy looked in the mood for a low one when he began with a tap-in eagle and followed it with a tap-in birdie. It was more prosaic thereafter, however, and a three-putt bogey at the last meant a 69 that left him a distant ten shots behind Watson. ‘I need to go very low at the weekend if I am to post a high finish,’ said the 22 year old, who has only finished outside the top five once in his last 12 events.
Back on track: Lee Westwood recovered after a disappointing opening round
Luke Donald needs a minimum top four finish to have a chance of replacing McIlroy at the top on Sunday and kept that target within reach with a 68 for a six under par total that saw him creep into the top ten. After a slow start to the season, Donald is showing signs of getting back to his best.
After his terrible opening 76 it was more like business as usual for Lee Westwood, the third member of this stellar group, as he shot a 67
Mickelson shot 71 to be buried in the pack. As for Tiger Woods, he gave another tidy exhibition of ball striking but didn’t hole many putts in a 67 that was merely a pedestrian score on this day. It left him seven shots behind but by no means out of it as he seeks his first U.S Tour victory since 2009.