By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PINEHURST North Carolina (Reuters) - Short-game woes undermined Justin Rose's opening round on Thursday at the U.S. Open but the reigning champion remained upbeat about his bid to become the event's first back-to-back winner in 25 years.
Though the English world number nine drove the ball well most of the day, he struggled with his chip shots on to Pinehurst's turtle-back greens as he carded a two-over-par 72 to finish four strokes off the early pace.
"I hit every tee shot just as I wanted to," Rose told reporters after mixing three birdies with five bogeys and totaling 30 putts. "I'm swinging it much better than I have been. I played the par-threes really well.
"Just my short game was very poor. I need to work on that. If I hit it like I have the last few days and just improve the pitching and chipping, get that sharp, I feel confident for the rest of the week."
Asked to pinpoint the main reason for his short game trouble, Rose replied: "It's really grainy around here and you have so many shots to choose from, that can be the problem.
"You've got to be clear on exactly the right spot (to land the ball) and choose the appropriate shot each time. That's something I'll work on."
Rose, who produced remarkable poise to claim his first major crown by two shots in last year's U.S. Open at Merion, knows he needs to up his game a few gears to give himself a chance of a repeat victory.
"I've got to play some great golf the rest of the week," the 33-year-old Englishman smiled. "I have to do that pretty much no matter if I shoot 66 today or 72.
"If I shot 66 I wouldn't be here thinking, 'Well, that's won me the tournament'. A 72 certainly hasn't lost me the tournament. That's exactly where you have to be."
American Curtis Strange won consecutive U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989 and Rose, who has set his sights on replicating that achievement this week at Pinehurst, has a clear idea of what he now needs to do over the next three rounds.
"I was telling myself if I get it back (to even par) and then if I shoot one-under each for the next two days ... that's the way I try to break it down.
"I shot two under on the back nine today and got myself back to two (over par), and even par is within striking distance. If I play well, I feel I can get it under par."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)