NORTON, Mass. – The first time Justin Rose played a competitive round at TPC Boston, he shot 63. That was 15 years ago and he was not yet a TOUR member. He was playing on a sponsor’s exemption extended by then-tournament director Jay Monahan, now the PGA TOUR Commissioner.
Rose, then 23-years old, eventually finished solo third and earned his TOUR card without having to go through Q-school.
Since then, he’s played more than 300 TOUR events, won nine times – including a major and two WGC events – and also won an Olympic gold medal. It’s been a stellar career.
But he’s never been able to match that 63 – although he came close Friday with a bogey-free 6-under 65 to take the first-round lead at the Dell Technologies Championship.
“This golf course has been changed and manipulated a lot through the years,” said Rose after his 45th career round at TPC Boston. “I think the first couple of years I played really well and enjoyed it. Then obviously significant changes through the years. I guess the last few years things have settled a little bit again.
“So I played better when it was pre-redesign. I probably had more success.”
Indeed. Besides his solo third in 2003, he tied for fourth in 2006. But since the debut of the FedExCup Playoffs the following year and the course’s redesign by Gil Hanse, Rose’s only top-10 finish came last year with a tie for 10th.
Perhaps he’s finally starting to solve it. He certainly solved the tricky wind conditions better than anybody else, and his bogey-free round was one of just two on the day (Abraham Ancer had the other in shooting 66).
Of course, it helps that he’s an established world-class golfer, ranked sixth in FedExCup points and fourth in the world.
Even so, TPC Boston – at least the latest version -- may always seem liked a mystery to him.
“I’ve had some mixed results here,” said Rose, who turned his first missed cut of the season at last week’s FedExCup Playoffs opener into a six-day visit back home. “I’ve had some great weeks and I’ve had some poor weeks here. It’s a course I never really know exactly what to expect.
“But it’s a fun golf course.”
It was fun 15 years ago when he first saw it. Maybe it will be even more fun for him the rest of this week.
KEEGAN HANDLING HOMETOWN PRESSURE
Keegan Bradley desperately wants to give his New England fans a winning performance.
Unfortunately, he’s never really come close at TPC Boston.
In six previous appearances at the Dell Technologies Championship, his best finish is a tie for 13th in 2012. That was the year he shot 63 in the third round. Alas, that only moved him within 13 shots of the leader.
Two years later, he opened with a 65, leaving him in solo second … and then he gradually dropped down the leaderboard to finish tied for 16th.
Yes, the Vermont native – who’s also an unabashed Boston sports fan -- gets tons of support here. That also comes with tons of pressure.
Now, though, he thinks he can properly channel that pressure. An opening 4-under 67, which leaves him just two shots behind leader Justin Rose, suggests this might be the year.
“I’ve learned to love coming here,” Bradley said. “It used to be a very tough week for me. I put so much pressure on myself. But I’ve learned to go with it.”
He’s also learning how to let go of disappointment.
A week ago, his third-round 62 at THE NORTHERN TRUST moved him into solo second after 54 holes. A day later, in the final group with eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau, he suffered a free-fall, his 7-over 78 leaving him tied for 34th.
Considering he hasn’t won a PGA TOUR event in six years and has just one top-3 finish in his last 119 starts, it was a bitter finish. But by the middle of this week, he was over it.
“It was tough, because I felt like that was my day to kind of tell everybody that maybe I was back here and I was here to stay,” Bradley said. “I may have put too much pressure on myself. But it’s nice to come right back out and play quickly.”
Will he keep riding the momentum – and successfully manage the expectations – for the final three rounds this week? Bradley certainly hopes so, but it’ll be difficult not to let his mind wander.
“I would love to give the fans and my family who don’t get to come to a lot of tournaments see me compete and do well, maybe win,” he said. “That would be incredible. So always in the back of my mind, I think how amazing that would be. How cool that would be.
“And that’s something that I’ll have to be aware of this week.”
Keegan Bradley interview after Round 1 of Dell Technologies
DJ’S GUARANTEE ... In eight career starts at TPC Boston, Dustin Johnson has three top-10 finishes. He’s only held the lead once in 32 rounds here, and has only been inside the top-5 once entering the final round. His promise: That all changes this year. “I don’t understand why I haven’t had more success here because I like the golf course,” he said after an opening 68. “I feel like it sets up well for me. And I’m going to have success this year.”
OFF THE BOTTOM OF THE SHOE ... Marc Leishman’s approach into the par-4 sixth was sailing long right and heading into trouble – until it bounced off the bottom of the shoe of a fan who had stumbled and fallen backwards while trying to get out of the way. The ball ricocheted onto the green, and Leishman capitalized on the break by rolling in the birdie putt from 56 feet, 11 inches. “First time that’s ever happened to me,” said Leishman, who shot a 68. “It’s nice when it does happen … Hopefully I don’t need those kind of breaks later in the week.” Click here for the video of the shoe shot.
TURF TALK ... A week ago, Chris Kirk tied for last among all players who made the cut at THE NORTHERN TRUST. This week, he’s off to a great start with a 4-under 67. The difference, he said, is his ability to read the greens at TPC Boston after struggling last week at Ridgewood. And why is that? “I suck on poa annua,” Kirk said. He said other than a solo second in the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his track record is horrible on poa annua greens. “I wish I somehow had any clue what I did that week,” he said. “I’m still using the same putter right now that I used that week.” Bentgrass greens, like at TPC Boston, and bermudagrass greens are no problem. “At least I feel good on two out of the three surfaces we play,” Kirk said.
FEELING FRESH ... Beau Hossler played six straight weeks earlier this season. He had another stretch of five straight weeks. But this week is just his third start in the last six weeks. “I feel really fresh, where a lot of players probably don’t right now,” Hossler said after his 67. “I would say my game isn’t exactly where I want it to be. But as far as mentally, I feel totally rested and prepared to compete.” Hossler’s fast start is no surprise – the rookie is fifth on TOUR in first-round scoring average.
BANG-BANG FINISHES ... Russell Knox was plodding along and coming off an unfortunate bogey on the 12th hole after finding the middle of the fairway. After that? Three birdies and an eagle hole-out at the par-4 15th to shoot 66 and share second place. “The round was just good in four holes,” Knox said. “It was nice. I haven’t hd one of those bang-bang runs in a while.” … Abraham Ancer also had one of those runs to finish his bogey-free 66, making four birdies in his last six holes. “Some putts didn’t go in on the front nine and I just stayed patient and made some coming in,” Ancer said.
Dustin Johnson sinks birdie putt from off the green at Dell Technologies
QUOTABLESThey might be taking an early weekend. Should be in school studying.I’ve learned more about my game this year than any other season, no doubt.
Tiger Woods sticks approach to set up birdie at Dell Technologies
CALL OF THE DAY
For play-by-play coverage of the second round of the Dell Technologies Championship, listen at PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Russell Knox's clutch eagle for Shot of the Day