On the day that Colin Montgomerie equalled his worst score in a major, Justin Rose made a welcome return to form. The humiliating experience of shooting 84 could signal the end of the Scot's major odyssey, but for the Englishman this could just be the inspiration he needs to put his march to the big-time back on its feet.
Rose came into the season's final major reeling after a campaign in which all the good work of 2007 had plainly not been consolidated. Worse still, the Ryder Cup berth that had seemed so certain, was suddenly precarious as he fell from first on the automatic standings into the last qualifying spot. Rose contended in every major last year, but after leading the first round of the Masters in April he has not been a factor in 2008. Until now.
After a brilliant 67, Rose is on level par and right in the hunt for both his first major and the points to seal his place in Nick Faldo's team. Could Britain's appalling USPGA record of 78 winless years about to redressed? Two more displays like this and it will. "That was my round of the year for sure," said Rose. "It's the kind of round I've been looking for to get myself back on the leaderboard and feeling the good vibes again. It just been a matter of the confidence, just a waiting game I suppose, until I start putting well again. That's how fickle it is."
Taking just 11 putts in the opening nine, Rose raced to the turn in one-under and then added two more on the par-five second (his 11th) and the par-four fourth (his 13th). Yet it was the scrambles he made that reminded most of the resurgent young man who hurtled from rankings from outside the top 100 to sixth in the space of 18 months. Rose just may have rediscovered the grind factor
There was one dropped shot, on the 18th (his ninth), but then again that 500-yarder is a par four only on the card and as bogeys go this was a classic. After spotting Faldo watching by the tee – "maybe that put the mockers on me," he laughed – Rose went from one fairway bunker to another, still had a seven-iron when playing for his fourth but got down in two courtesy of a eight-footer. Five there is no shame and pars everywhere else on a layout so rightly termed "The Monster" is a giddying achievement. Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, was also in on level with his own 67, while setting the clubhouse target on one-under was the American, JB Holmes But out on the course the preferred expression was one of torment and the favoured response was disgust.
Ian Poulter best summed up the general, displeasure over the set-up. "You are just trying not to bleed to death out there," he said after a 71 left him on five over. "It's like the PGA slice your throat on the first tee and you have to try and make it round to the 18th without dying." Monty would have know exactly what he meant.
It was sad and yes, rather painful watching the 45-year-old fare so catastrophically at the scene of his Ryder Cup glory in 2004. That year he held a four-footer on the 18th to win the cup; this time the same putt was simply to avoid equalling the worst round of his 20-year career. As it was, his round of 14-over (leaving him on 19-over overall) took its place alongside the 84 at The Open in 2002.
"That was the hardest day on a course since Muirfield," he said when commendably stopping to talk. He the revealed he would not be playing until the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in thee weeks time, which just happens to be the last counting tournament to make Faldo's side. His chances of making a ninth Ryder Cup appearance now appear bleak, to say the least. "I'm not even thinking about that and I wasn't out there," he said. "I wasn't conscious of much out there really."
Oakland Hills claimed many more victims, not least Darren Clarke. The Ulsterman arrived in Michigan on the back of an encouraging top 10 finish at the prestigious WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron believing that another good showing here would propel him into the considerations for a Kentucky wildcard. Alas a 75 and a 76 for an 11-over total has propelled him right out of it again. "It is a real and honest appraisal that I wouldn't pick myself at the moment," said Clarke. "But if I play well in those last couple of weeks and he was to pick me then great – but I do have to play well."