LEMONT, Ill. -- Turns out, it's a good thing Justin Rose didn't join the belly brigade after all.
After admittedly struggling on the greens most of the year, Justin Rose turned up with a new toy in hand at the practice area on Tuesday at the BMW Championship.
He'd just picked up a brand-new belly putter, though he barely knew which end of it to hold. So he spent a few moments watching the other belly-putter purveyors using the popular device as he tried to figure out whether he was brave enough to use it in live play.
When the first round came, he left it in the trunk.
His results were magical even without it in the bag.
Rose shot one of the more impressive rounds of the season with an 8-under 63, which was 8.75 strokes better than the field average in the first round at difficult Cog Hill.
Rose, a popular Englishman, had nine one-putt greens and made a series of short-range testers in the five-foot range to maintain his two-shot lead over Webb Simpson and Mark Wilson, both two-time winners this season.
Rose ranks 111th in the tour's newest stat, strokes gained putting, which translates rather brusquely to this -- compared to his peers, he's been below the tour average this season. Small wonder he was investigating the belly model, all the rage of late. Four of the last five tour events have been won by players using longer putters.
"I've got to try and represent the short putter out here," Rose laughed afterward. "I probably did get a few benefits from trying it."
Some players, like past BMW winner Camilo Villegas, use the belly model on the practice green as an instructional tool, with the notion that it helps them with the traditional-length model. So Rose might be onto something.
It wasn't like the rest of his game was lacking, either. He hit all 14 fairways and only missed two greens, totals that topped the field in both categories.
He also halted a rather nagging problem that has dogged him much of the season -- he was ranked 111th in opening-round scoring average. He shaved 8.4 strokes off his Thursday average.
"I've been sort of fighting my way back into tournaments," he said.
Now he can enjoy running out front for a while.
Like several others, Rose took the opportunity during the PGA Tour's scheduling off week to decompress. He took a trip to Long Island last week with some friends and drank a few beers.
"I was joking with my wife, if I came out and shot 80, there'd probably be no more of those," he said. "That was the incentive to do well."
Rose, a likeable lad with a self-deprecating sense of humor, was so disappointed with his putting that earlier this year at the Memorial, he handed his putter to a kid after the round and said, "Maybe it'll work better for you than it did for me."
As it turned out, the kid was left-handed.