Golf: Rose in his prime to bloom at Augusta

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FOR a spell, it was always the ‘Best of British’. Sandy Lyle started the winning spree in 1988, Nick Faldo kept it going for the next two years before getting in on the act again in 1996 while Ian Woosnam also tasted success in 1991.

Not since the last of those successes by Faldo, however, has a British player come out on top of the pile to be crowned as Masters champion in the opening major of the season at 
Augusta National.

Based purely on the rankings, world No. 3 Justin Rose holds the best chance of ending that drought this week and the 
Englishman is relishing the challenge.

He tied for eighth behind Bubba Watson 12 months ago and has arrived back here with two top-ten finishes under his belt this year, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational 
behind Tiger Woods.

“I feel my game is in good shape,” said Rose. “I feel like all year it’s been a continuation of where I left off last year, which is nice. Preparation-wise, I’ve really been conscious about not playing too much golf going into the Masters. I had a busy end of 2012 and I think I have paced myself quite nicely 
coming into this tournament.”

Rose tied for fifth in 2007 and added: “I’ve played some good rounds of golf here and when you’ve done that you have some confidence that you can do it again.

“It’s all about putting it together and I think a lot of that does come with experience here. You’ve got to learn how to manage your emotions and the golf course and then do them all at the same time.

“I feel like it is a course that I can win on. I think it suits a lot of players, though, so I don’t feel like I have any particular advantage.”

According to the statisticians, 32 is the optimum age to win this event, making Rose a genuine contender this week having served his Masters apprenticeship. “Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don’t have the necessary skills to back it up,” he said.

“I think now that I have a lot of trust in my game and I feel like if I put myself in a situation with a chance to win, I know I can do it.

“I would say that’s come about really in the last three years. I would say 2010 to this point, I feel like I’ve emerged from what I would say was a rocky kind of professional career, up-and-downs.

“I always had good years, bad years, but I feel like recently I’ve sort of got into a nice run of form. So I feel like it’s a lot more sustainable. I have a good team of people around me to help.

“As for 32 being a good age, obviously I hope that’s a good omen. I’ve always scripted it that between 30 and 40 was going to be my prime.”

Slighty older but also in with a chance of bringing back the British glory days in Georgia is Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter.

“I feel very good about my game right now,” said the colourful Englishman. “I’ve played five events since the start of the year, including last week in Texas, which was something slightly different.

“I’ve never played the week before the Masters. I’ve always had a couple of weeks off. But I wanted to kind of get another tournament in before coming here so I could be match sharp.

“And, although I didn’t finish the week off well last week, I feel that I’m ready this 
week.

“I’ve hit the right shots in practice. I feel that how I’ve looked at the golf course in terms of statistics, how I’ve played the course the number of years I have, I generally play it pretty well.

“You know, I’m kind of fired up to play well again this year and try and slip one of those jackets on come Sunday.”

Twenty-five years on from when he did that, Lyle lines up again in a three-pronged 
Scottish challenge alongside Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird.

Lawrie marked his return to the event after an eight-year absence by tying for 24th 12 months ago while weekend Texas Open winner Laird was 20th two years ago.

Whether either of them can emulate Lyle this weekend remains to be seen, especially with Tiger Woods heading into the event in red-hot form.

Back at world No. 1 for the first time in more than two years, he’s won three times already on the PGA Tour and now his sights set on a fifth Masters success.

“I’m not happy that I haven’t won here since 2005 but I’ve been in the mix and the whole idea is to give myself opportunities,” said the 37-year-old.

Winning this week would also mark a first in his career. “I’ve never won a major with a goatee on,” he said of his facial fashion.