A few weeks ago, Justin Rose said he felt like the forgotten Englishman in golf. That’s when Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, and Luke Donald were creating the buzz with their top-10 rankings in the world, while Rose’s career appeared stuck in neutral.
What a difference a month makes. Now Rose is the talk of the PGA Tour with two victories in his last three starts, with only a bad Sunday back nine at Hartford keeping him from three straight wins. He’s won at two of the best courses on Tour, the Memorial at Muirfield Village and the AT&T National at Aronimink, and he’s now second in the FedExCup standings.
It’s the continuation of an odd career path for Rose. He burst onto the scene with a fourth-place finish at the 1998 British Open when he was still 11 days shy of his 18th birthday. After immediately turning pro the next day, he proceeded to miss his first 21 cuts.
Just when it looked like he was due to become a cautionary tale, came redemption with three international wins in 2002. He decided to cast his lot with the PGA Tour—and promptly faded into the woodwork. His ties to Europe reduced after the death of his father in 2002, Rose committed himself fully to the PGA Tour in 2005-6, playing in 28 events in the U.S. each year. He made the top 60 on the money list, but didn’t win a tournament and got into only one major in those years, his best finishes coming in the largely ignored fall portion of the season.
Rose suddenly bloomed again in 2007 when he finished in the top 12 in all four majors. Rejoining the European Tour after winning the Australian Masters in November of 2006 (which counted as an event on the 2007 European schedule), he ended up winning the Order of Merit when he captured the season-ending Volvo Masters. He also ranked 19th on the PGA Tour money list, though still without a win.
Then it was back into the shadows in 2008 and 2009, except for a good showing in the 2008 Ryder Cup, where he beat Phil Mickelson in singles. After finishing 52nd on the European and 83rd on the PGA Tour money lists in 2009, Rose didn’t even make the field for the Masters, the U.S. Open, or either of the first two WGC events in 2010.
Nor was he in the field for the British Open at St. Andrews—until his win at the AT&T earned him a spot via a special money list covering six recent PGA Tour events. (The British Open’s top 50 world-ranking exemption was based on the May 23 standings, a week before Rose started his hot streak. Rose is currently 16th in the world ranking.) Now he will be one of the favorites.
A month ago, Rose appeared out of the picture for the Ryder Cup. He still hasn’t moved into the top four in world ranking points—and hasn’t played enough European Tour events to make it on the money list—but has stamped himself as a nearly automatic captain’s selection with his two wins.
Those first two career PGA Tour wins came in his 162nd and 164th events, with his 30th birthday looming on July 30. So, is the real Justin Rose finally standing up?
Rose is not the type of player to wow you with any one aspect of his game. But he has no weaknesses—at least he doesn’t at the moment. Two years ago, Rose ranked an abysmal 186th in putting on the PGA Tour. Last year, he was a respectable 71st. So far in 2010, he’s in the upper echelon at 23rd.
The other big improvement in his game is in driving accuracy. A year ago, Rose ranked 79th in hitting fairways, which is about where he has always been. But this year, he’s stepped it up to 23rd. He’s about average in driving distance at 286 yards (ranked 81st). He doesn’t overpower courses, but he’s long enough to hold his own. And now that he’s hitting more fairways, he’s up to 11th in total driving.
When you add in solid iron play (32nd in greens in regulation) and a very good short game (11th in sand saves, 12th in scrambling), you can see that Rose is firing on all cylinders. That’s why he’s sixth in the all-around statistical category and second in scoring average.
One aspect that still could stand some improvement is his ability to close out tournaments. His scoring average in the first two rounds this year is 69.28; on the weekend it’s 69.88. Before converting a four-stroke 54-hole lead at the AT&T National, Rose had led going into the final round in five PGA Tour events and not won any of them. Even when he won the European Tour’s Volvo Masters in 2007, he shot a 74 in the final round.
Rose let the lead get away when he imploded on the final nine at Hartford, falling all the way into a tie for ninth from a three-stroke cushion entering the day. He picked himself right back up the very next week at the AT&T National to take a four-stroke lead into the final round, extending it to five with an eagle on the ninth hole on Sunday.
Things had a “here we go again” look after Rose three-putted for bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes—his first three-putts in 15 rounds—as his lead rapidly dwindled to two strokes. Perhaps playing with an excess of caution, Rose hit every green on the back nine but kept leaving himself with long putts. After those two three-putts, he couldn’t have felt too comfortable as he faced four putts of 40 feet or longer on the rest of the back nine. He was up to the task, successfully negotiating all of them in two putts as he parred the last seven holes and held off a hard-charging Ryan Moore by one stroke.
Needing a par on the final hole, with Moore safely in the clubhouse, Rose launched a 326-yard drive into the fairway, setting up a wedge approach and a routine two-putt. It gave him a final round of even-par 70 on a difficult Aronimink course and got rid of the demons from Hartford. It should serve him in good stead the next time he is in that situation—which could be soon, the way Rose is playing.
Rose is now a player to watch at St. Andrews. It’s quite a difference from the last British Open at St. Andrews in 2005. Rose says he felt like a “spare part” there as he was the first alternate, hanging around near the first tee all day on Thursday but not getting into the championship. The contrast is emblematic of Rose’s up-and-down career, but perhaps as this grizzled 29-year-old veteran gets ready to hit his prime years he is ready to be a spare part no more.