Not many people can name the No. 3 golfer in the world right off the top of their head.
Justin Rose isn’t offended that the conversation rarely extends beyond the top two names in golf: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. The affable Englishman, who is hitting his prime at age 32, is under no illusion that he should be included in that discussion.
“They’re at 10-point-something on the world rankings, and I think there’s a sizable gap,” said Rose, who sits 4.08 points behind McIlroy, about the same margin Rose has over No. 40 in the world. “If I was 10-point-something as well and not getting any sort of vying for the No. 1 spot, yeah, of course. But I have a lot of work ahead of me to get to No. 1.”
Rose might be closer to finishing No. 1 at Augusta than many believe. In seven starts, he’s held the 18- and 36-hole lead and never missed a cut. He’s finished in the top 25 five times, including fifth in 2007.
“Certainly had some great rounds of golf here, led the couple of days before and had a chance in 2007,” he said. “I think I was one back with two to play from Zach (Johnson); that’s how I remember it, anyway.”
Rose made a serious run in 2007, making birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to put some heat on Johnson. But his tee shot on the 17th tee caught a pine branch just right of the fairway and ricocheted 70 yards back toward the 15th fairway. He wound up making double bogey and fell out of contention.
The near miss did not haunt him.
“I had a chance, an outside chance,” he said. “I was enjoying the moment. … I really felt like I was living my boyhood dreams. I felt very calm, very comfortable actually, in that situation, and I just remember really, really enjoying it.”
Rose comes to Augusta this time riding a wave of good form. He hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in a tournament since September, and nothing worse than tied for 17th in six starts this year, including runner-up finishes in Abu Dhabi and Bay Hill. He’s fulfilling all the expectations that were heaped on him when he challenged as an amateur in the 1998 British Open at Birkdale.
“Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don’t have the necessary skills to back it up,” Rose 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 – it’s never easy, but I feel like I have the tools at my disposal now to enjoy the occasion, and for it not to be overwhelming at least. I don’t think that that necessarily makes it any easier, but I know I can do it.”
Especially at Augusta, where his confidence rides the highest of any major stage.
“I would say year on year, this is as good a chance as I get,” he said. “I’ve played some good rounds of golf (at Augusta), 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.”
If all goes well, Rose could win a green jacket and start contending for the No. 1 ranking and a bigger slice of the conversation.
“Obviously the notion of being the best player in the world is exciting, and when you get as far as No. 3 in the world you want to entertain that,” he said. “I’m under no illusions that’s not going to be difficult, but I have eight years of great golf ahead of me.”