WINNING any major is great but victory in the Open would be most special of all, Justin Rose tells Martin Dempster
EVERYONE remembers Justin Rose, just 17 at the time, chipping in from the left rough at the 18th to finish joint-fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Lesser known is that his association with the game’s oldest major began three years earlier.
“I have a great affinity with the Open,” he said, “and it goes back to when I was 14 and made the final qualifying up at Scotscraig.” Bidding to become the youngest player to compete in the Claret Jug joust since John Ball in 1878, he fell short at the Fife venue. Nineteen years on, Rose rarely falls short, both on and off the golf course. His performances are polished. So, too, are media interviews. He’s the perfect role model for the next generation of British golfers.
It’s been 22 years since an Englishman (Nick Faldo at Muirfield) won the Open Championship. It’s even longer – 45 years – since one (Tony Jacklin at Royal Lytham) achieved the feat on home soil. Rose would love to be the man to change all that at Royal Liverpool this week.
“I feel like winning the Open would be the one,” admitted the 33-year-old, his eyes glistening just talking about that possibility. “It’s like Novak Djokovic said at Wimbledon – that’s the one that’s most special to him. For a British player, the Open is the most special. We all want to win a major (as he did in the US Open last year) and whatever one comes along first that’s great – it’s nice to get the monkey off your back. But, if you can go on and win an Open… Phil [Mickelson] realised just what it meant to do that last year and we’d all feel that way.”
Rose didn’t play at Royal Liverpool in 2006, the last time it hosted the event. He tied for 12th – his best finish – at Carnoustie the following year but has missed the cut three times in the last four years. Hence, a links outing in the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen being added to this summer’s schedule.
“I’ve been fantastic,” he replied to being asked about his Open record. “I’m being sarcastic with that, but there’s two sides to this story. If you simply look at the record books then it isn’t very good. But, in ’02 at Muirfield – with a little bit more experience – I had a chance to win there. And, if I’d been putting like I am now at Turnberry in 2009 then I think I’d have won there too.
“I have played a lot of good golf in the Open and just haven’t put four rounds together. I know how to play links and have given myself some decent looks. I’ve been on the wrong side of the draw a few times. That happened in 2008 and then in 2010 also – hopefully there isn’t a lop-sided part of the draw this time but, if there is, then I want to get lucky.”
Eight years ago, winner Tiger Woods hit only one driver on a Hoylake course that was fast and fiery. Is that a strategy that can land a Claret Jug for any of this week’s hopefuls? “You can always see people lay back on every hole, but that then means you have to hit a lot of good, long irons into the greens,” observed Rose.
“It’s hard to judge how a ball will land and then roll if you aim 20 yards short of a green. That won’t leave you many birdie chances so you would really need to putt the eyeballs out the course that way.
“If you are a straight driver, then giving yourself a 9-iron iron and a wedge will be the strategy. If not, then it will be going for accuracy and hope the putter works well from distance.
“There’s many ways to play it – it doesn’t suit any particular type of player. It could suit anyone from G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) to Bubba Watson.”