LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Justin Rose dropped his putter, put his hands on his knees and dropped his head. He paused, looked up and managed a wry smile, knowing just how close he came to shooting a 59 on Thursday.
Rose missed a 14-foot birdie putt on No. 18, leaving him a stroke away from matching the PGA Tour record shared by Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991) and David Duval (1999). The 26-year-old Englishman settled for a 12-under 60, course and tournament records, and a four-stroke lead Thursday in the Funai Classic at Disney.
"I did everything right to shoot 59," Rose said. "All I wanted to do was have a putt at 59."
He had one. It was pretty much straight, too.
Rose hit a 6-iron from 190 yards on the 433-yard 18th. The ball bounced six inches from the hole, rolled past and stopped near the fringe. Rose tipped his hat several times as he walked toward the green and couldn't stop smiling. He lined up the putt from both sides, took two practice swings and then pulled it just left.
After his initial reaction, he tapped in for his best round ever on the PGA Tour, three shots better than his previous low set in the 2002 Deutsche Bank Championship and matched in the 2004 Canadian Open.
"You never know if you're going to get that putt again," he said.
Richard Johnson was alone in second place, four shots back. Tag Ridings, Steve Flesch, Bob Tway, Charles Howell III and J.J. Henry were five strokes behind Rose. Howell's 65 may have been the most impressive considering he played the much tougher Magnolia Course.
The others, including Rose and Johnson, played the Palm Course -- the easiest course on tour last year by nearly a full stroke.
Howell will play the Palm in the second round Friday, while Rose and the rest of the leaders move to the Mag, which played about a stroke and a half tougher than the Palm on Thursday.
"I would much rather have Justin's position right now," Howell said. "But I'm not complaining with where I am."
Howell noticed Rose's score as he walked to the first tee. Howell then spent the next several holes keeping an eye on the scoreboard to see if his good friend would tie the record.
"It would have been cool to see him get to 13 for the magic number of 59," Howell said. "A 60 is talked about for a couple of weeks. A 59 is talked about forever. ... The 59 is the magic number, and I know Justin well enough to say that he was wanting it."
Rose had putts that would have made the difference.
He barely missed an eight-footer on No. 13 and a four-footer on No. 16.
"Right now, I don't feel disappointed," said Rose, who missed just three fairways off the tee and hit 17 greens in regulation. "Maybe the enormity of 59 will hit me and I'll think, 'Well, that was an amazing chance.' ... It was uncharted territory for me."
Rose started his record round with three straight birdies. He got even hotter with six consecutive birdies beginning at the par-5 seventh. At 10-under and heading to No. 13, Rose turned to his caddie and said, "A 59 is on the card here."
Unlike a pitcher working on a no-hitter, Rose felt no superstition as he walked the final six holes and openly discussed his chances with everyone around him.
He needed three birdies over the final holes to make history. He gave himself chances, too, when he nearly hit the flag with shots on the final four holes.
But he missed two good chances to go lower and two-putted each of the four par-5s.
He joked that maybe next time he won't talk openly about trying to shoot a 59.
"Maybe the curse got me," he said.
Davis Love III (67), Chris DiMarco (67) and Vijay Singh (68), the three biggest names in the 144-man field, were in the hunt. But only Singh played the Magnolia Course in the opening round. ... Four players shared the previous tournament record of 61: Mark Lye (1984), Bob Tway (1989), Payne Stewart (1990) and Carl Pettersson (2005). Stewart held the previous Magnolia Course record.