Equipment free agent Justin Rose puts his early season struggles behind, if only for a day, with an opening 63
Darren Carroll for Golf Digest
Two years ago, Justin Rose’s three-shot victory at Colonial was but another step in his ascent to the summit of professional golf: world No. 1. He’d pick up six top 10s in his next eight starts, a run of ruthless consistency that saw him claim the top spot on the World Ranking after the BMW Championship that September.
This time around, Rose showed up to Colonial for the Charles Schwab Challenge in a state of flux. More on that in a second. But you’d never know anything has been off judging from his opening round, a seven-under 63 that gave him sole possession of the lead when he signed his card.
"No one quite knows where their tournament game is," Rose said after the round. "I think, for me, delighted with the way it kicked into gear today."
Of course, every player has been in a limbo of sorts, with this being the first PGA Tour event in more than 90 days and the first tour event played under the specter of a global pandemic.
But Rose’s status was especially dicey—he missed three of his last four cuts before the layoff, has dropped to world No. 14 and sits outside the top 200 in the FedEx Cup standings. The main culprit has been ball-striking, which has worsened significantly from its world-class best, prompting him to end a lucrative endorsement deal with Honma—which went into effect at the start of 2019—and return to playing TaylorMade clubs, which he used for the first 20 years of his career. He first started putting TaylorMades back in the bag during the Florida swing in February and March and officially ended his relationship with Honma during the hiatus.
Now an equipment free agent, Rose is playing a TaylorMade driver, a TaylorMade 3-wood, a Cobra 5-wood, TaylorMade irons, Titelist wedges and an Axis1 putter.
"I spent a lot of years at TaylorMade, so I felt like I needed just to get a bit of a baseline on my game."
Rose, who began his day on the 10th tee alongside Dustin Johnson (71) and Bryson DeChambeau (65), pulled his opening tee shot into the left trees, then missed the green to the right. He opted to go with a fairway wood bump-and-run from there and promptly rammed it in the hole.
"It was a nice little positive start to the day, and therefore I was able to get the momentum going on my front nine, which was the back nine, and then actually played much better golf as the round went on.
Ineed he did. Rose missed just two more fairways the rest of the day and hit 12 of 18 greens while needing just 24 putts. It all added up to seven birdies, zero bogeys and a stress-free cruise that wrapped up before the worst of the Texas heat beat down on Colonial. The 39-year-old Englishman looked very much like the player from 2018—a fairway and green machine and a fixture on the first page of leader boards.
Rose looked to have an outside chance at 59 after he birdied his 10th, 11th and 12th holes of the day to reach 7-under with six to play. He’d have to settle for 63, though, after making six straight pars coming in.