Justin Rose keeps on flying under the radar

As McIlroy and Woods flop, the world No 5 is showing the form of his life

He has led from day one, he is playing the golf of his life and now that the poster boys are out of the picture we can give the man his due. Come on down Justin Rose. He was the first to acknowledge the entitlement of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods to the love and loot that comes their way. Neither have justified their billing with a club in their hands but, hey, it's only January.

In the absence of the world No 1 and No 2, Rose filled the void, beginning 2013 as he finished 2012. A birdie at the last for a round of 68 gave him a two-shot cushion to take into the final day of the HSBC Championship here.

After an opening bogey, the round was built on a run of five birdies in six holes to the turn. He played some imperious golf, the like of which we associate with McIlroy and Woods at their best.

Quietly, Rose has been playing like this for the past year. Because of the consuming brilliance of McIlroy and the resurgence of Woods, the column inches have not come his way.

The WGC Cadillac title at Doral in March presaged a remarkable run at the big shows: eighth at the Masters, second at the BMW at Wentworth, fifth at the WGC Bridgestone, third at the US PGA, second at the Tour Championship, and again at the climax of the European Tour season in Dubai.

The run took him from 18th in the world to No 4 at the close of the year, a stunning rise embellished by his pivotal role at the Ryder Cup, where his 40-foot putt at the penultimate hole against Phil Mickelson ignited another huge momentum swing in favour of Europe. It was not enough, however, to shift McIlroy and Woods from the top table at the opening tournament of the year.

"I'm good with that," he said. "They clearly deserve it. Rory is the No 1 player in the world and Tiger is the best player of our generation. So they deserve the headlines. I like to sort of prepare, and coming in under the radar is never a bad thing. I'm happy for the boys to have the limelight. Those are the guys that if you win the tournament, it validates it. You really come away feeling proud that you've beaten a world-class field." The current world No 5 is almost there. Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, the one Nike new boy to justify his pay cheque this week, and Jamie Donaldson lead the pursuit. However, it will take a significant move to disturb Rose, who is partnered by Olesen today.

Rose quickly put behind him the three-putt at the first that cost him a bogey. From the fourth hole, he found a rhythm that this week at least was way beyond anything McIlroy and Woods could muster.

"It was another good day," he said. "I strengthened the lead and, more importantly, played really great.

"Some days are a bit of grind but it was pretty smooth today. I did not realise I made five birdies in six, which shows how calm I was.

"When I'm in and around the lead I feel pretty comfortable now. Tiger and Rory are not here. There is a lot of hullaballoo; the crowds are more intense based on their interest. I'd love to tell you it's playing the golf course that counts. No opponent can come and rugby-tackle you. I've tried my whole career not to let the crowd and others influence me. When they [Woods and McIlroy] play, it just makes it more difficult."

Rose also discussed the difference between perception and reality, how his status in the game has yet to catch up with the quality of his play. Since how we see ourselves is to a large degree determined by how others see us, this has a consequence for self-esteem and his station in the minds of those in the galleries.

"I believe my game is not far off at all," he added. "I'm very happy that I can close the gap or hopefully make the gap disappear with some hard work. Status is obviously something that's up to everybody else but I think, from a golf point of view, I'm very close to the very top end of the game and I have more to give."

Presumably a win today would help? "Absolutely, anyone who wins this week has beaten the world No 1 and No 2," said Rose. "It gives the tournament huge credibility, and you can say you have beaten the best players, which is exactly what you need to do. You need to do that in the majors and most weeks on tour. These are great opportunities."