He’s back as the world No 1 and also has a win under his belt this season. Just as important in Justin Rose’s build-up to The Masters, though, has been some poor golf. According to the Englishman, a patchy scoring run was a kick up the backside heading into the season’s opening major.
“Confidence is up there for sure,” said Rose, who has been reunited this week with his trusty caddie, Mark ‘Fooch’ Fulcher, after the bagman was given the all-clear to start working again following heart surgery. “I feel like I’ve had a decent year so far [highlighted by a victory on the PGA Tour in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines]. I’ve had enough good golf to give me confidence and I’ve had enough poor golf to keep me working hard.
“That is sometimes a good place to be, as well, because, if the game comes too easily and results are just happening, you don’t get lazy by any means but you don’t quite know where the next level for improvement is. You’re not forced to look inward. I had three bad rounds in a row, which lit a fire under me to start working hard and I’ve started to see the results as of late.”
Rose’s record at Augusta National is mighty impressive. In 13 previous visits, he’s never finished outside the top 40 and has chalked up five top 10s, including two second-place finishes. He has a scoring average of 71.73, which is on a par with Jordan Spieth’s 70.05 and the American has played in 20 rounds compared to Rose’s 52. “Guys talk about a course that fits their eye and I think this is one for me that I like all the shots out there,” said the Olympic champion.
It’s nearly six years since Rose made his major breakthrough in the US Open at Merion. He’s hoping this season is when he starts adding to that tally. “I’d love just to say the word ‘multiple’,” he admitted. “Then we’ll keep staying motivated and keep trying to push the boundaries from there. I would take four [by the end of his career] – as long as it’s one of each. That would be awesome.”
While Gareth Lord, Henrik Stenson’s old caddie, had been deputising, Rose is delighted to have Fulcher back at his side. “He’s been chomping at the bit to get back, but he’s stayed very much integrated and engaged in my game,” he said. “Once he knew he was looking good to caddie this week, which was his ultimate goal, he came out to Austin [for the WGC Match Play] to kind of get some of the back slapping out of the way so he could focus on business this week, which was smart of him. Fooch said to Lordy, ‘you’ve got one job, just give him back to me as world No 1’. The fact that the ranking switched this week was kind of a nice touch.”
Since Nick Faldo recorded the last of his three title triumphs in 1996, Danny Willett has been the sole Englishman to win here and, with all due respect to the Yorkshireman, his triumph three years ago was something of a surprise. Rose certainly wouldn’t fall into that category and neither would Tommy Fleetwood, pictured.
This is only Fleetwood’s third appearance in this event but, after finishing runner-up to Brooks Koepka in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last year, the 28-year-old is a genuine contender this week. Top-five finishes in both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship over the past month or so have put him in good fettle.
“I didn’t start the season as fast as I have done in the past couple years, so I have worked my way into it,” he said. “I built a lot of confidence at the Arnold Palmer and then the following week was as confident as I have felt on a golf course.
“It’s strange when you have the two best finishes of the year and you’re disappointed in both of them because I really felt like I had good chances. But, overall, everything’s in really good shape. I feel great being here this week. You really get a sense of the difference in how you feel from year one to year two to year three. Year one, it’s all so new. Year two, you’re more comfortable with it and it just kind of progresses to the point where I’m getting a better understanding and feeling of the tournament and the course and what that involves.”
In The Players at Sawgrass, Fleetwood was just two shots behind Rory McIlroy, the eventual winner, with two holes to play when he took dead aim at the pin on the island green at the 17th only to see his ball come up agonisingly short, hit off the sleepers and end up in the water. An aggressive attitude will also be adopted if he’s in a similar position here on Sunday afternoon. “There was only one way I was ever going to get close, and it was to go for it,” said the former Scottish Open Stroke Play champion. “It didn’t come off, but I didn’t really think anything of it.
“Not that golf will ever define me as a person, but I’m never going to look back on my career and say, ‘oh, I finished third at The Players, that was a good week’. Or, ‘oh, I finished top five at the Masters, I made a couple of nice pars on the last to finish top five’. That’s probably something I’ll never say to my kids or grandkids. That’s not something to be that proud of.
“Winning is what it’s all about. I want to win them [majors], not for a financial standpoint or anything. It would just be nice to have on my resumé.”