HOYLAKE, England – Two down, one to go. And for Justin Rose, it’s the biggest one of all.
Rose heads into the British Open as probably the hottest player in golf after winning back-to-back titles for the first time in his career, at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional and the Scottish Open over at the links at Royal Aberdeen.
Back at his career-high ranking of No. 3, he is playing as well as he ever has, and the experience of being a major champion – at the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013 – makes his case even more persuasive at Hoylake.
But he has failed to crack the top 10 at his home major since memorably finishing tied for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, when he chipped in at the 18th at Birkdale. Rose missed the cut at three of the last four British Opens.
“Thousands of times I have won the Open Championship, in my mind,” Rose said. “This is probably the one I’ve dreamed about the most.”
For dreams to finally turn into a reality, Rose said he just has to stay in “the zone” and not get carried away with the expectations that predictably have been placed on him by a British public desperate for a triumph in an otherwise miserable sporting summer.
He doesn’t think that will be a problem – and he puts that down to winning at Merion.
“If I had been coming off a couple of wins and not won a major championship, I would be thinking, `Is this my opportunity to get it done?’” he said on Tuesday, appearing completely at home in his role as one of the big British Open favorites.
“It takes that little bit of pressure off me, the fact that it’s been done. I have one under my belt. The monkey is off my back … and I now have a model that works.”
Putting problems were once Rose’s weakness but if ever there was a demonstration to prove that is no longer an issue, it was on the front nine in the final round at the Scottish Open on Sunday.
Rose rolled in five birdies, from lengths varying from six to 25 feet, to pull away from the field and ease to his first victory in Europe in seven years. Playing partner Marc Warren said he watched on in awe.
“Justin has always been a great ball striker,” fellow Englishman Luke Donald said. “The only thing that has ever held him back is his putting, but he seems to be doing that a lot better now. He is a solid, solid player. World class.”
Rose was in the French holiday resort of St. Tropez the last time the British Open was staged at Hoylake, in 2006, when Tiger Woods claimed his third and most recent claret jug. Rose had failed to qualify for the third year in a row and was struggling to live up his promise.
It means the build-up to Thursday’s first round will be as much about familiarizing himself with the course than keeping his swing in shape.
Rose believes picking up shots on the par-fives will be one of the keys to success. But also just trusting the game that is closing him in on the No. 1 ranking.
“I was always trying to improve a part of my game to fit the golf course, where now I just build my strategy around what I’m good at,” Rose said.
“I am assuming if I did win this week, I’d go to No. 1. I’ve always said, for me, I’ve always focused more on winning major championships than chasing No. 1. That’s just a really nice by-product of your process.”