Fifteen years ago, one of the many fresh-faced youngsters in the crowd at Wentworth Club asking players for their autographs at the Volvo PGA Championship was an eight year old Justin Rose. The wheel turned full circle in the second round of the 50th anniversary tournament when the 23 year old Englishman led the tournament to become the focus of attention himself.
Rose grabbed pole position with a superb six under par 66, his best ever round on the West Course, to move to 11 under par 133 for the tournament, two shots clear of an impressive chasing pack featuring Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Joakim Haeggman and Phillip Price, who all ended on nine under par 135.
But the day began to Rose who thrilled the crowds with some swashbuckling golf which featured seven birdies in total, the highlight coming at the par five 17th where he pitched in from 20 feet for a birdie four.
As well as giving him the lead in The European Tour’s flagship event, it also saw Rose outscore his playing partners, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and England’s Nick Faldo, ironically, one of the players the young Rose sought out for an autograph all those years ago.
“Those days seem so long ago that you really have to sit down and think about them but it is nice to be able to do that,” said the double winner on The European Tour. “That was me ten or 15 years ago but obviously a lot has changed. Watching them, that was my dream then and so I am living my dream now.”
The last time Rose led a tournament of such stature came in April when he reached the halfway stage of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National two shots clear. Although a third round 81 put paid to his chances of a Major victory, his courageous final round 71 showed he had learned from the experience and he vowed to put that to good use over the weekend at Wentworth Club.
“Augusta taught me you can never get ahead of yourself really,” he said. “It might be boring to have to tell you but it really is just one shot at a time. I think that I will have learned from Augusta that tomorrow is not worth thinking about until it comes.”
One thing is for certain, that with the quality of the chasing pack behind him Rose will have to be at his best over the weekend to claim his third title on The European Tour International Schedule to add to his victories in 2002 in the dunhill championship and the British Masters.
Best finish of the quartet on nine under par 135 belonged to Welshman Price who stormed home with birdies at each of the closing five holes to not only earn £5000 for Sport Relief via the Red Bull Final 5 Challenge, but also post a seven under par 65, the best round of the day.
“I’m really pleased with that obviously,” said the winner of last year’s Smurfit European Open. “I felt really good in practice and last week in Germany. When I wasn’t doing much early in the round I felt a little frustrated, but the finish made me feel really good.”
Next player to join Price in the nine under par club was Clarke who started well with an eagle three at the fourth and who reached nine under par after 14 holes of his second round, only to stay there after four closing pars which left the Ulsterman a touch frustrated.
“It was pretty good early on but then I let a few slip towards the end and wasted a few chances especially at the two par fives to finish,” he said. “I hit two really good shots onto the 17th and then three-putted for par and then didn’t birdie the last – I’m a little disappointed to leave a few out there.”
Another player who had to battle hard in the second round was first round leader Els, who could not quite repeat the fireworks of his opening 64 but, nevertheless, the South African showed the battling qualities which has seen him win 16 European Tour titles in the last decade to birdie the last two holes for a 71 and a nine under par total of 135.
“It was a bit of a difficult day,” admitted the South African. “I actually struck the ball well in the early stages but I had no feeling with the putter for some reason. Today though I thought the golf course played a little more difficult.”
Completing the quartet on 135 was Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman who reproduced the form which saw him win the Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club in March, especially around the turn on the West Course where he posted four birdies in five holes.
The strength in depth at the top of the leaderboard continued with a glance further down at the five players tied for seventh on eight under par 136, a group which included the 2002 champion Anders Hansen and was completed by Angel Cabrera, Stephen Dodd, Ian Poulter and Marcel Siem, winner of the dunhill championship in January.