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2020 Colonial: Justin Rose shifts into gear

Justin Rose 2020 Colonial first round
Justin Rose regains top form at Colonial.

After struggling to start year, Englishman switches equipment and shoots bogey-free 7-under 63 to join American Harold Varner III atop Charles Schwab Challenge as PGA Tour restarts season

Though the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge looked more like a pitch-and-putt exhibition than the traditional precision game at “Hogan’s Alley,” one thing is certain. The PGA Tour is back.

Justin Rose and Harold Varner III shot 7-under 63s at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to lead 77 players under par on a day with a 69.48 scoring average at the 7,209-yard, par-70 course. It was the PGA Tour’s first tournament round in three months after the coronavirus pandemic suspended play March 12 at the Players Championship. Those low scores might have surprised the late Ben Hogan, a five-time champion at his hometown event. Hogan knew that the power game had little to do with mastering a tight Colonial course (scores / tee times).

As amateurs, we can learn something from every round this week at Colonial. Though few of us probably would bulk up like Bryson DeChambeau, who according to Rose outdrove the Englishman by 40 yards on the first hole, we can learn that playing from behind doesn’t have to be a disadvantage.

Rose, 39, the 2013 U.S. Open champion who missed three cuts in four starts this season on the PGA Tour, recently dumped equipment company Honma and switched mostly to TaylorMade. Still using his trusty putter from Axis 1, Rose shot a bogey-free 7-under 63 in the morning before Varner, an American, made seven birdies against no bogeys in the afternoon. Americans Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas shared third place with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas at 64.

The top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking were grouped together. No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Brooks Koepka shot 68s, and No. 2 Jon Rahm shot 69.

“The good thing is, I feel like I didn't max everything out today,” said Rose, the 2018 Colonial champion who tied his low professional round on the PGA Tour. “Yes, my short game was good, my putting was good, but I feel like there's another level there or another gear or two with the long game. It's important to still be able to grow into the week and have areas of my game that can improve.”

What did we learn?

Don’t try to hitter it harder or farther than your playing competitors. Instead, play your game. Rose decided that just because he was getting paid a small fortune to play a company’s equipment, the money wasn't worth it if he could use other equipment and play better.

Tom Lehman, whose five PGA Tour victories include the 1995 Colonial title and the 1996 British Open, played on the PGA Tour for the first time since the 2019 British Open. Lehman, 61, a solid ball-striker, is competing against a group of hungry Tour players who, though in most cases might be decades younger, have not played competitively in three months. That could level the playing field for him this week.

Lehman shot 65, with six birdies and a bogey, for his best score on the PGA Tour since the first round of the 2011 Phoenix Open. He is the oldest player to shoot 65 or better on the PGA Tour in 40 years.

“Do I feel like I'm capable of shooting a 65 out here at Colonial? Well, for certain I do,” Lehman said after his morning round. “Did I expect to do it today? Well, I would be probably lying if I said I fully expected to play and shoot such a low score. But I did expect to play well.”

Lehman sank more than 100 feet of putts, ranking fifth in the strokes-gained category.

With fans having been banned because of concerns about social distancing, Lehman views the week as “a lower-pressure atmosphere.”

“That's the thing about the PGA Tour,” he said. “I wouldn't say it's a circus, but it's a big event. There's so much going on. There's so many people, and there's so much happening each week at a Tour event,” he said, contrasting a typical week on Tour with the return at Colonial. “The pressure is all internal versus all maybe the circumstances that surround you. So, people are playing well, and they're going to want to play well; they're going to put pressure on themselves. But I don't think you feel the same kind of nerves or atmosphere that you would normally.”

There’s a lesson for all of us in Lehman’s round. For golfers young or old, amateur or professional, focus on your game and not the play of others. Good things can happen.

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