Leader Rose finds way back

Sunday, April 01, 2007
By David Westin
Staff Writer

It's been three years since Justin Rose has played in the Masters Tournament. That might surprise some fans who remember what he did in his last visit.

Justin Rose has missed the past two Masters Tournaments, despite having been atop the leaderboard after 36 holes in the 2004 tournament. He closed with 290 and a tie for 22nd.

(Chris Thelen/Staff)

In that 2004 tournament, the Englishman led the Masters after a first-round 67 and followed that with 71 to be the 36-hole leader. A third-round 81 derailed him, and he closed with 71 to tie for 22nd in his second Masters appearance.

The PGA Tour member hasn't played poorly the past three years, just not well enough to qualify for the Masters.

He's in this year's field because of his improved play late last season and thus far in 2007, moving him into the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking two weeks before the Masters.

The other late qualifiers into the Masters are Aaron Baddeley, Bart Bryant, Mark Calcavecchia, Paul Goydos, Charles Howell and John Rollins.

Rose started moving up in the ranking late last season when he tied for second in the Texas Open, then tied for fourth at the FUNAI Classic, which are both PGA Tour events. He went on to win the Australian Masters on the Australasian Tour in late 2006.

"The improvement was obviously last year; I played really well the second half of last year and got myself much higher in the world rankings," Rose said. "I'm excited about playing again."

He nearly qualified for the 2007 Masters at the end of 2006, when the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking earn invitations. Rose was 51st.

"That was obviously very disappointing because it's always nice to know you're in Augusta the first of January." Rose said. "I knew I needed to continue my good play this season and get myself back in the tournament."

In January, Rose had a great opportunity to win the 90-hole Bob Hope Classic. The 72-hole co-leader after rounds of 67-65-66-70, he closed with 76 in brutal weather conditions to finish third.

"No doubt, I would have loved to have won that," Rose said. "But I do feel I'm very close to winning out there.

"At the same time, you can't build it up in your mind as being such an important thing. I'm enjoying the process I'm undertaking each week. I feel that process is getting me into good positions. If you keep getting in good positions, you're going to have a lot of chances to win and ultimately win more."

In three-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, Rose has one runner-up finish and four third-place finishes. It's not like he's never won, Rose says, pointing out his five international victories.

"A win is a win, no matter where you play around the world," he said. "You face the same emotions and feeling no matter where you play when you're trying to win. I'm trying not to separate the two (PGA Tour vs. international wins.)"

Rose, 26, remembers the positive parts of his 2004 Masters, such as his opening-round 67.

"I got off to a great start on a pretty tough day," he said. "It was an amazing round of golf and one I'll never forget.

"Leading the golf tournament was a great experience. Obviously, it was an experience to put under your belt. When that situation comes around again, you'll be better able to deal with it."

That includes having a late starting time as a member of the final pairing in the third round.

"I found that hard to prepare for," Rose said. "I think it was like 3:20 p.m. There were the added nerves and things like that. Next time that's a situation I'll be much more equipped to know how I'm going to feel and how to deal with that. It was a very powerful and valuable experience."

According to Rose, the third-round 81 wasn't as bad as it sounded. He got off to a bad start (3-over through four holes) and then started playing defensive.

"Everything was just a little bit wrong," he said. "I felt I was just 10 percent off all day. I was getting slightly on the wrong side of the flag. That's what that golf course is all about - there is a subtle difference between the slopes working for you or working against you."

His game has improved since his last visit to Augusta National, Rose said, especially his iron play.

"I feel like I have a lot of control over the spin and trajectory, all those sorts of things," he said. "You need to be very precise with your iron play at Augusta.

"One thing I've worked hard on is softening up my ball flight with my irons, getting the ball coming into the greens softer; i.e., playing more loft on the clubs and not squeezing the ball so much. That is an advantage when greens get firm."

Rose knows what he's doing once he gets on greens like those at Augusta National. His victory in the Australian Masters came on greens that he said "were probably" as quick as Augusta's.

"That's a big confidence booster to know I've putted well on greens that are that fast," Rose said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.