ATLANTA—Justin Rose is No. 1 in the world. On Friday at East Lake, he was treated like, well, No. 2.
Rose had one of the worst tee times in golf: the one in front of Tiger Woods. For those that haven't experienced Tigermania in person, fans sprint ahead of the 14-time major winner, hoping to catch a glimpse by jumping a hole. It's understandable, yet problematic for those unfortunate souls who happen to be, you know, competing. This course is tough enough without having moving spectators in your swing.
Conversely, you don't reach the top of your sport by letting distractions get to you. The Englishman seemed impervious to the surrounding circus, turning in a three-under 67 to grab a share of the lead with Woods heading into Saturday.
"The course was playing a bit trickier," Rose said afterwards. "And I knew I was in a good spot going into the weekend. Missed a couple fairways coming in, but birdieing the last made it feel like a good day's work."
In his first tournament sitting in the OWGR throne, Rose has lived up to the billing. His tee-to-green play has been absurd (6.636 strokes gained in this category), highlighted by hitting a tournament-best 30 greens through two days. His putter hasn't been slacking either, knocking in close to 50 feet of made putts for back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to jump into the lead.
"I felt like I was waiting for—I was waiting to make some," Rose said. "I hit some good putts that hadn't gone in, and to make those two suddenly got me up there. At that point, I took a look at the leaderboard and realized guys hadn't done much today."
A bogey at the 16th—combined with Woods' racking up three birdies in a four-hole stretch—briefly knocked Rose from the top, but a Rose birdie at the 18th and a double from Tiger inserted Rose back in the lead.
That Rose is on the board is not newsworthy; anytime the man tees it up he posts a top-10 finish. Seriously: 10 in 17 tries on tour this year, with an extra four in worldwide events. He's No. 1 for a reason.
Of course, how he achieved that honor came in less-than-desirable fashion, losing a playoff to Keegan Bradley at the BMW Championship. Although Rose looks at in from a different perspective.
"I'm a millimeter from winning that golf tournament in style," Rose said, regarding his missed putt on the 72nd hole at Aronimink. "That's the way I have to look at it. Sure, second-second doesn't add up, but the way I'm competing I feel comfortable with."
He also feels comfortable enough playing with Woods on Saturday, and all the ruckus that brings.
"Obviously, people are excited about watching Tiger play again," Rose said. "He's obviously right on form and feeling very comfortable out there, looks like he's driving it well, irons have been great all year, looks comfortable with the blade.
"So it's exciting for people to get a look at him back at his best and it will be fun to be play with him. I played with him earlier this year in Bay Hill and enjoyed playing with him there. But yeah, there's more on my mind than just playing with Tiger tomorrow for sure."
Such as the FedEx Cup. Rose is one of just five players in control of their own destiny, and through 36 holes, he's in line to take home a cool $10 million, even without a win at East Lake.
We're only halfway home in Atlanta, though, and that aspiration remains in the distance. He has two rounds, and thousands of fans, to navigate first.
"It's going to be, obviously playing with him versus playing in front of him today, I think it was just big crowds no matter what," Rose said.
And tomorrow, some might even be watching him.