Rose leads at major-ready Aronimink

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- So the PGA Tour came to Aronimink Golf Club and a major championship broke out.

Let's get this straight: There are four majors. That's it. This isn't the senior tour, which claims five, nor the Players Championship, which is mockingly referred to on occasion as "the fifth major."

And yet, nearly everything about this week's edition of the AT&T National so far has the innate feel of a major. The deliciously devilish golf course. The increasingly difficult conditions. The uncommonly high scores.

Don't believe it? Just ask the competitors.

Bo Van Pelt: "You've got to drive the ball in the fairway and got to keep it below the hole."

John Mallinger: "Just kind of keep plodding."

Nick Watney: "You've got to be smart out there."

Joe Ogilvie: "They could put 18 pins where you just can't go for them."

Ryan Moore: "Everything has to be working to shoot a number out here."

Carl Pettersson: "If you keep shooting under par it's going to be a good chance."

These are the types of comments more often suited to Augusta National or a U.S. Open venue than a regular-season PGA Tour stop. But in its first year of a two-year stint as host, venerable Donald Ross-designed Aronimink Golf Club here in the Philadelphia suburbs is baring its teeth as a major championship candidate.

Through two rounds, the field's scoring average has been more than a full stroke over par each day, with only 29 of the 120 players to start this event under par entering the weekend.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise. This course has played host to big-time events in the past, including the 1962 PGA Championship, 1977 U.S. Amateur, 1997 U.S. Junior Amateur and 2003 Senior PGA Championship.

It might not be much longer until it sees another one.

"Taking this for two years sort of gets us back on the map, back in the national spotlight with a view toward doing something even better," Aronimink president David Boucher said. "Maybe the PGA. Or if we can even dream a little bit, maybe an Open."

It's a dream that could be on the precipice of becoming reality. Course officials invited PGA of America executives to this week's tournament, and while conflicting arrangements made that visit an impossibility, the two parties are planning to meet sometime in the near future with an eye toward discussing a return to this venue.

"We're on their radar informally," Boucher intimated. "We haven't had formal discussions with them yet. This is the kind of tournament where they get to know about us a little better. We're more on their radar and we get a chance to express our desires, as well."

If PGA of America officials -- or even those from the USGA -- are watching this week, they've seen a course that has played, as many players have noted, "tough but fair," which just happens to be the type of lingo often used to describe major championship venues.

So far this week, the field's driving accuracy number has been below the full-year PGA Tour average and the collective putting average has been well above the usual number. The end result: Players are averaging 2.57 birdies per round over the opening two days as opposed to 3.38 for the entire season.

"I'm taken aback by its difficulty," Jim Furyk, who had never before played the course, said earlier this week. "I think it's a very tough golf course. It's tough to get the ball in the fairways. They're pitched at a lot of angles from left to right and right to left. You have to work the ball well off the tee. The greens are very big but are cut up into smaller sections. There's a lot of slope, a lot of undulation, and they're already quite firm.

"Add to that, there's probably the thickest and the longest rough we've had for a PGA Tour event this year. So I expect scoring to be difficult. It's a tough golf course and a good test."

Maybe the only thing separating this tournament from a major is the current leaderboard. With rounds of 69-64, Justin Rose enters the third round in sole possession of the lead at 7 under par. He is trailed by Jason Day and Charlie Wi (6 under), then Jeff Overton and Charley Hoffman (4 under). The common denominator? None has ever won a major title.

In fact, there isn't a single former major champion in the top 16 going into the weekend, as Furyk and Lucas Glover (each at T-17) are the only members of that group under par through two rounds.

That may have more to do with the lack of a stellar field than anything else. Only three of the world's top 20 and 13 of the top 50 are here this week, but they may want to send a message to their peers for the future.

That message? Get used to Aronimink, because sometime in the near future it may host a tourney that doesn't just feel like a major championship, but actually is one.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.