Justin Rose is feeling the heat. And not just because his short game is on fire. Currently sitting nervously in 10th and last place for automatic Ryder Cup qualification, Rose knows he needs a good week at Oakland Hills.
"Yeah, no doubt about it," he said after signing for a three-under-par 67 to leave him level par for the tournament. "I knew this week is key for the Ryder Cup. A good performance here will really help me out."
Not a bad day, then, to fire what he said was the best round of his year. "It's the kind of round I have been looking for," Rose said. "To get myself back on the leaderboard and feeling the good vibes."
His coach, Nick Bradley, clapped his hands and said: "Job done. Ticked all the boxes today. Perfect."
Rose was certainly feeling those good vibes after carding four birdies, including a wedge to two feet at a sucker pin on the 446-yard, par-4 fourth. But the talking point of his round was a spectacular bogey at the 18th. Nick Faldo had been following Rose for a few holes, no doubt checking up on his potential Ryder Cup player, and he stood behind Rose on the 18th tee (Rose's ninth hole).
"Yeah, I caught a glimpse of him; he put the mockers on me," Rose said. "That was the worst swing of my round."
The drive went right and settled against the face of a bunker. His next shot found another bunker and plugged. He chopped out to the fairway and had a 7-iron to the pin. He stiffed it to eight feet and made the putt. "That was a great bogey," he said. "That was a really key point to keep my momentum going."
The key to his whole round, though, was a hot putter. A 20-footer to save par at the eighth (his 17th) was crucial and was one of just 25 putts in the second round.
"I haven't tried to rebuild my stroke," he said. "It's just been about confidence coming back, seeing a few putts going in and starting to believe in myself again. That's how fickle it is, I suppose."
Rose said the sloping and winding greens reminded him of Augusta National, a course he feels he has always putted well on.
Coming up fast behind Rose in the race to get on Faldo's Ryder Cup team is Rose's best friend on tour, Ian Poulter, who shot 71 and is five over for the tournament. He was in the group behind Rose.
"It must have been tricky for him today playing behind me and seeing my backside in the air all day picking my ball out of the hole," Rose said, laughing. "It would be great if we both made the team. We're rooting for each other, and we would be a natural pairing for Nick."
Rose, once again in position to shoot for that elusive first major championship, is 28 and says he has learned from his failures. He cited Faldo, who won six majors, as a prime example of a late bloomer who started winning majors in his thirties. Rose is not looking to follow that example any longer, however.
"You can't keep saying I'm gaining experience," Rose said. "There is a time to start believing that it is time to win. And the time is now."