Justin Rose Hopes to Bloom Again at Royal Birkdale
FOR most people, the lasting memory of the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is of a 17-year-old Justin Rose holing his third shot at the 72nd hole to finish joint fourth. He made the mistake of turning professional the next day and thus began a long and painful journey in the paid ranks, with the youngster missing an agonising 21 successive cuts, losing his way and his confidence in the process.
He turned pro in the full glare of the media spotlight, and he failed week after week with the media still following his every move - until they eventually lost interest in him, dismissing him as a flash in the pan. For a long while, it looked like what he had achieved at Birkdale might have been precisely that. But Rose was, and remains, a fighter. He believed that, eventually, it would all come right and it did.
After missing all those cuts, he earned a European Tour card in 1999 when he finished fourth at the qualifying school. It was another false dawn. He failed to retain his playing privileges and had to return to school at the end of the season. This time he finished ninth, regaining his card once more.
His struggles continued until 2001, when he finished runner-up in consecutive tournaments in South Africa, finishing in the top 40 in the order of merit. But it seemed that his early promise may come to nothing. Not a bit of it. He finally made his breakthrough in 2002, winning the Dunhill Championship. The floodgates then opened. Filled with self-belief, Rose went on to win a further three times that year, in South Africa, Japan and England.
The following year he was knocking on the door of the top 30 in the world rankings and gained his PGA Tour card. He briefly slipped out of the top 50 in the rankings in 2004 and in 2005 announced that he was going to focus on the PGA Tour, as trying to play on both tours was having an adverse impact on his game. It looked like he might lose his PGA Tour card until he turned things around by finishing third in the Buick Championship.
There were a couple of near misses in 2006 at both the Canadian Open and Texas Open and towards the end of the season he won the Australian Masters, his first title for four years. He lost a playoff at the 2007 BMW PGA Championship and by the end of the year was just outside the top 10 in the rankings. He won the Volvo Masters after a playoff and, with it, finished on top of the European Tour order of merit.
The Open returned to Birkdale in 2008, and Rose was in the field. Upon his return he said: "I didn't remember a lot of it, to be honest. They made about 17 changes to the golf course, but it's very, very subtle changes there ... and it's looking really good.
"Yeah, there were a few little memories, funny things that happened during the week and stuff like that. It was an unbelievable week. That's the reason I did it more than actually learning the golf course; it was just time for me to get what happened 10 years ago out of my system."
His breakthrough in America came in 2010, when he shot a final round of 66 to win The Memorial. And three weeks later he added another title at the Travelers Championship. He had finally arrived.
In 2011 he won the BMW Championship and finished fifth in the FedEx Cup standings.Now he was on a roll and he duly claimed the WGC-Cadillace Championship in 2012 to take his first World Golf Championship victory, followed later in the year by a tied third finish at the US PGA Championship. At the time, it was his best finish in a major. He also starred in Europe's astonishing Ryder Cup comeback victory at Medinah, beating Phil Mickelson in the singles. His rise continued in 2013, when he was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and rose to third in the world rankings.
All that was missing from his CV was a major, and it duly arrived in June 2013 when he beat Phil Mickelson and Jason Day to win the US Open at Merion. Rose started the final round two strokes behind Mickelson but as the left-hander faltered, Rose held his nerve. After he holed the winning putt he looked skywards in silent tribute to his late father, Ken, who had played such a huge part in Rose's life and early career.
His winning streak in America continued when he won the Quicken Loans National in 2014 as well as the Scottish Open, and the following year he secured win number seven in America at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans after finishing third at The Masters. He also claimed the Hong Kong Open.
Although he failed to win a regular event in 2016, he beat Henrik Stenson to claim the gold medal at the Olympic Games, and earlier this year he lost The Masters to Sergio Garcia in a playoff, handling himself with terrific dignity afterwards. He was clearly disappointed not to win, but announced that he was delighted to see the Spaniard finally winning his first major.
And so he returns to Royal Birkdale. How appropriate it would be if he could finish the week by hoisting the Claret Jug. It has been an eventful journey for Rose but he has earned the admiration and respect of everybody who has followed his career. It would have been easy for him to give up, but the thought never once entered his head.
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