CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Under a slate gray sky Friday, Justin Rose could feel the mood changing over Quail Hollow Golf Club.
He could feel the atmosphere growing as cool as the damp morning air at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Rose was playing alongside Phil Mickelson, whose hot start Thursday grew cold early in the second round, with Lefty knocking tee shots into trees and batting too many putts past holes.
By the turn, all that excitement Mickelson created in the first round was gone, leaving all the folks who love him here marching fairways almost as morosely as their man himself. Lee Westwood, the third party in the group, was playing even worse than Mickelson.
“Yeah, the atmosphere definitely changed,” Rose said.
Rose, 33, was undeterred, carving and finessing shots through the malaise on a more lively march of his own, a hike straight up the leaderboard.
With four birdies and an eagle against a single bogey, Rose shot 67 Friday, pushing his way past Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and so many others. At 8 under overall, Rose ended his day trailing only Martin Flores (68) and Angel Cabrera (69) by one stroke.
“I feel I’m in a good spot,” said Rose, who is ranked No. 10 in the world. “Two good, solid days put me in a good position for the weekend. I'll be around exactly where I need to be, last couple of groups off, possibly. Saturday is all about keeping pace with the leaders, and Sunday, as we all know, it's the strongest man of the day.”
Rose, who started the year recuperating from a shoulder injury, is seeking his sixth PGA Tour title. His shoulder’s just fine now.
Mickelson, 43, started the day two shots ahead of Rose, and a large gallery awaited their first tee shots, eager to root Mickelson on to his first win this year, and his first win at Quail Hollow, a course where he has thrived without actually winning.
The day didn’t start well for “Lefty,” who lived up to his name in the wrong way early. He pushed his first three tee shots left into trouble. He was clumsy on the greens as well, missing a 3-footer and a 4-footer for pars. His 75 included 34 putts.
“I just struggled getting the ball in the hole,” Mickelson said.
Rose, meanwhile, was sharp early, making birdies at his second and fourth holes and an eagle at his sixth.
While nobody was rooting against Rose, he wasn’t the man paying customers came to see.
“The group got quiet,” Rose said. “It got tough out there for the guys. They weren't on top of their games, so I was just trying to separate my thinking, and just trying to stay positive, keep trying to hit good shots out there.”
Rose had been in this circumstance before, sort of, and he thrived in it.
Last year, Rose didn’t play with Mickelson in the final round of the U.S. Open at Merion, but he could feel Mickelson’s presence two groups behind him. He could feel how much the fans were trying to will Mickelson to win his first U.S. Open. In the end, though, it was Rose who took home the trophy, leaving Mickelson with a record sixth runner-up finish in that championship.
So Friday’s atmosphere was tame, really, nothing overly taxing for Rose.
“I have to focus on my own game out there,” Rose said. “There was a period when me and Phil were standing over there, and I was trying to get in my own bubble, and finish as strong as I could, but, definitely, the atmosphere in the group changed, and that's all part of the sport and the game.”
The U.S. Open is just six weeks away, just down the road from Quail Hollow at Pinehurst No. 2. Rose says he isn’t thinking too much about defending his championship just yet, other than trying to take some momentum there.
“It would be nice to go back with the confidence of having just won a tournament,” Rose said. “If I can do that in the next month or so, that would give me a lot of confidence going back to Pinehurst.”