Rose knows he must close the deal

Sunday, April 06, 2008
By Scott Michaux
Staff Writer

In only three Masters Tournaments, Justin Rose has collected a wealth of experience.

Rose has held at least a share of the lead on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- a stat that indicates a strong competence for playing the course.

"I really like the golf course, and it's one I feel like I've always done well when I've gone there," Rose said. "The whole week excites me."

Rose has twice been the 18-hole leader (2004 and '07), and he shared the 36-hole lead in 2004. He was among a handful of players who held a share of the lead in last year's final round, and was only one behind leader Zach Johnson before making double bogey on the 71st hole.

So, coming off his best finish at Augusta (tied for fifth), Europe's highest-ranked golfer returns fully expecting to be a contender.

"I'm going to go there believing that for sure," the 27-year-old said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't have to play out that way. I felt comfortable last year in that situation, and I think that was the biggest thing I learned. I really enjoyed the whole atmosphere and enjoyed the buzz. I learned a lot about myself, really, in that last round."

Despite two European Tour victories in the past 16 months, closing has been an issue for the young Englishman. That was clearly the case at Augusta last April.

Needing a birdie on one of the last two holes, Rose's drive on 17 caught a pine branch on the right side and ricocheted down the 15th fairway. His 4-wood recovery leaked off the left side of the green, and his chip back rolled through the other side. He finally missed a short putt and took double bogey.

"If you're going to win a golf tournament, that's when you manage to make the right swing at the right time," Rose said. "I'm sure, given another chance, I'll have a good chance of doing that."

Since winning the Australian Masters at the end of 2006, Rose has developed into one of the world's most consistent players. With a playoff victory in the season-ending Volvo Masters in November, he won the European Tour's Order of Merit and passed Padraig Harrington to become the highest-ranked European in the world at No. 6.

"It doesn't give you any extra luck or anything," he said. "It's just a nice title, but at the end of the day, Jan. 1 rolls around and you have to do it all over again."

In last season's four majors, Rose's worst finish was tied for 12th, so he's trying to follow a similar formula. Rose has made only five starts (all in the United States) this year and comes to Augusta off a two-week break.

"It's not a light schedule, but a schedule where I feel fresh mentally," he said. "That's probably the biggest thing that helped me last year."

What also energizes Rose for this year's major slate is a return to Royal Birkdale. It's the 10th anniversary of his spectacular emergence, when he contended for the 1998 British Open as an amateur. After finishing fourth, he promptly turned professional and went through a difficult transition into the touring life before finally approaching his potential.

"It seems like another me, really," Rose said. "So much has happened since then. I was always turning pro after that week, so I obviously had high hopes for the week. But if I was realistic, making the cut would probably have been a good achievement. It was nice to get myself in the mix there."

So Rose has positive experiences at two major venues to bolster his growing confidence in 2008.

"I haven't played the golf course (Birkdale) since '98," he said. "So I'm looking forward to getting back and hopefully feeding off of good memories and an amazing week."

But Augusta comes first. Rose leads a list of strong, young candidates to regain a measure of the British glory at the Masters going back to the days of Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam.

"Historically, Britain and Europeans have done well there," Rose said. "Paul Casey has played well there, Luke Donald has done well at Augusta, and I've done well at Augusta.

"That's probably as good a chance as any."

The only experience left is to hold a Masters lead Monday.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.