The designation of best-player-without-a-major is a long-standing golf tradition. As the 2013 U.S. Open winner at Merion, Justin Rose no longer has to worry about such labels.
Yet Rose arguably earned a new accolade in 2015 – best season without a major. The Englishman was co-runner-up at the Masters Tournament with the lowest non-winning score (14-under) in tournament history. He tied for sixth at the British Open and finished solo fourth at the PGA.
All in all, he posted the lowest cumulative single-season score in the relation to par (34-under) for anyone who’s made the cut in all four majors without winning any of them in at least 30 years. Only Jordan Spieth (54 under) and Jason Day (35 under) did better last year. It was two strokes better than Rickie Fowler in 2014 when he posted top-fives in all four majors.
“For sure I’m close. Last year I was right there,” Rose said. “There were some record scores last year and to win them was tough. But my level of consistency was right there and I feel like my game sets up well for majors now. I have as good a chance if not more of a chance in majors as I do regular PGA Tour events. That’s a nice position to be in – to at least have that mindset. Who knows if that’s accurate? I believe that’s the case.”
The 35-year-old Rose is in the prime of his career coming off a sixth consecutive season with at least one worldwide victory. He finished runner-up twice in Georgia last year, taking second to Spieth in the Tour Championship at East Lake as well.
But the Masters was a big moment for Rose, posting four consecutive sub-par rounds to shoot a number that would have won all but six Masters.
“Last year was probably the first year I’ve put four of them together,” he said.
Playing with Spieth in the final round, Rose drained a long birdie putt on the first hole only to have Spieth match him. He cut the deficit to three strokes after Nos. 2, 5 and 7 but failed to get up-and-down for birdie on No. 8 and three-putted for bogey on No. 9 to fall six back.
“I look back at the tournament and felt like I was really, really close to putting a little heat on Jordan there,” Rose said. “If I was in that situation again this year I would probably do a better job on 8 and 9. I think 8 and 9 is where I let it slip last year. … I felt like that was a turning point for me momentum wise. Other than that I felt I was right there and didn’t really put a foot wrong and felt good under the gun.”
Rose hung in there and had a chance to put pressure on Spieth at the 16th. But his 18-footer for birdie barely missed and Spieth drained a 10-footer for par to maintain a comfortable four-shot lead.
“I felt in it even at the end,” Rose said. “I hit a great putt at 16 and if that goes in he’s got 10 feet and if he misses it’s two up with two to play. So up until 16 it was game on so I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience really.”
After adding yardage with his driver and a new high draw he’s cultivated over the last two seasons, Rose will return to the Masters feeling good about his chances on a course where he’s never missed a cut and posted three top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
“I’ve got new dimensions to my game this year that will only help me at Augusta,” he said.
Rose played with Spieth and Day the first two rounds in the U.S. Open and drew confidence from that experience despite his worst major effort of the year (T27, 5-over par).
“There’s no doubt I outplayed both those guys and to be nowhere near them on the leaderboard was frustrating,” he admitted. “Chambers Bay was an attitude choice about the greens. I did my best but once you start seeing them miss that’s kind of all you can see in the end. I got on the wrong side of that momentum-wise but stuck with it and even had a great run on Sunday and then finished in a train wreck. And even with that finish I still had one of the lowest totals ever in major championship history.”
His performances make him even hungrier to join the fraternity of multiple major winners.
“One is a great honor and a gift,” he said. “But it would make it an incredibly meaningful career to kick on from this point.”