NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Justin Rose was happy to be leading the AT&T National, especially because it was only five days ago that he threw away a chance to win with a surprising meltdown in the final round.
Tiger Woods? He’s happy to still be playing.
Rose played bogey-free Friday and wound up with the best score of the tournament, a 6-under 64, to build a one-shot lead over Jason Day and Charlie Wi going into the weekend at demanding Aronimink Golf Club.
Woods, who won this tournament last year at Congressional, hit the ball well for the second straight day. He again got nothing out of it, however, and missed a 30-inch putt late in the round that brought him back to a 70. He was at 3-over 143, which made the cut on the number, although he was never in serious danger of going home early.
“I’m driving it on a string right now, and that’s fun,” Woods said. “But if you don’t make putts, no matter how good you hit the golf ball, you’re not going to shoot good scores.”
The scoring improved slightly in the second round, especially in the afternoon as the wind began to calm. Rose said his round was helped by being in the same group with Sean O’Hair (68) and J.B. Holmes (69), who also played well. They combined for 13 birdies and only one bogey over the 54 holes they played collectively.
For Rose, the timing could not have been better.
In his first tournament since winning the Memorial by closing with a 66, Rose had a three-shot lead at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., when it all fell apart. He shot 39 on the back nine for a 75 and tied for ninth.
“I turned up here Monday morning feeling like I was a better player than I was on Sunday, because you learn,” he said. “My game doesn’t go away overnight. You have an experience like that, and if you ask yourself the right questions and if you deal with it in the right way, you become better.”
It might have been different had he not just won his first title in America. That allowed him to take the collapse in stride, and he sure hit his stride Friday on another gorgeous afternoon outside Philadelphia.
He never had a par putt longer than 5 feet, and he seized the outright lead late in his round with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th, making it two straight weeks with the 36-hole lead. The idea how is close better.
“Obviously, you have a day like today where everything goes your way and it’s easy to think, ‘Well, this course isn’t that difficult.’ But you just need to really keep your patience around here,” Rose said. “I think nothing really changes tomorrow.”
Day wasn’t nearly that optimistic, missing fairways and greens down the stretch but dropping only one shot. And he made that up on the par-5 ninth with a tough chip below the green to about 5 feet.
Day, the 22-year-old from Australia, won the Byron Nelson Championship two months ago for his first PGA Tour victory. Wi is still searching for his first, and he got into contention by holing out from 166 yards in the 12th fairway for eagle.
Jeff Overton, who played in the morning, had a 68 and was at 4-under 136. Robert Allenby, who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2001 in western Pennsylvania, had a 67 and was in the group at 3-under 137 that included Bo Van Pelt (68) and Ryan Moore, who bogeyed his last two holes for a 70.
Woods is nowhere near the lead, even if it looked as though he would get right in the mix.
Morning wind kept anyone from putting together a good score, and when Woods finally found some momentum with back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes – the latter with a 30-foot birdie putt – he was at 1 over and closing it on his goal of getting back to even par for the tournament. Then came a shot that covered the flag and landed 5 feet away.
Trouble was, Woods was trying to land his 7-iron on the par-3 fifth about 15 short of the hole because the green was so firm. It hopped hard and went into the rough behind the green. With a delicate chip, he advanced it only about 10 feet, still in the rough, then chipped some 7 feet past the hole and had to make that for bogey.
Woods one-putted five consecutive greens, a streak that ended in a surprising fashion. After a superb chip-and-run over a hump behind the eighth green that he nearly holed for birdie, he blocked his 30-inch par putt to drop another stroke.
A routine par allowed him to make the cut. Rose’s round in the afternoon made Woods’ prospects look even worse.
“I’ve just got to put together two good rounds and see where that leaves me,” Woods said.