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The 137th Open Championship
Royal Birkdale - 17-20 July, 2008

By Rob Hodgetts

Justin Rose is ranked ninth in the world
Rose hopes to rekindle happy memories at Royal Birkdale

Justin Rose was a boy with the world at his feet when he left Royal Birkdale 10 years ago.

This week he returns as a man ranked ninth in the world, hunting a maiden major title at the course that made his name.

The Englishman with the South African lilt finished fourth as a spindly 17-year-old amateur the last time the Open was held on the north-west links in 1998.

Now, the reigning European number one and top-ranked Briton is widely touted as the most likely home winner of the year's third major.

"I couldn't script it any better," he said. "If this is the right week for me it would be an amazing story. I've always said that to surpass that memory I have of the Open I'll have to win the tournament, so obviously that's the goal and it would be very, very sweet."

But Rose's 10-year journey has been far from a steady upward progression to stardom and riches.

Having already enjoyed a glittering amateur career, Rose burst onto the wider golfing scene with a second-round 66 at Royal Birkdale, sparking a generation of headlines on the blossoming, blooming and flowering theme.

He remained in contention before holing his pitch to the final hole for a birdie to finish one shot behind Tiger Woods and two off the play-off in which Mark O'Meara beat Brian Watts.

"People still tell me that was the loudest cheer they've ever heard on a golf course," he said.

"It was just a fairytale week and the crowd support for me was amazing. I got a standing ovation on virtually every tee. I felt like Jack Nicklaus."

Rose had always planned to turn pro straight after the event but his success at Royal Birkdale thrust him into an intense media spotlight, from which it was impossible to escape as he suffered 21 straight missed cuts.

Lesser characters may have folded. But with stoicism and resolve, Rose ploughed on under the guidance of father Ken and coach David Leadbetter, taking the knocks, learning his trade, accruing experience the hard way.

Justin Rose finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998
People still say that was the loudest cheer they've ever heard on a golf course

Justin Rose on his famous exploits at Birkdale
"The best way to learn about being a pro, was being a pro," he said.

Eventually, he realised he was putting too much pressure on himself to secure a full European Tour card straight off the bat, and stressing about giving a return on the huge sponsorship deals he had signed after the Open.

Stepping back, he tried to blank Birkdale from his mind and draw strength from an amateur career that included winning the England under-18s at age 14 and becoming the then youngest ever Walker Cup player at 17 years and 10 days.

"It was easy to get caught up in the whirlwind," he said. "The media hype was amazing and I wasn't ready for it. But looking back now I wouldn't change it for world. I learned a lot about myself and the competitor that I am."

Rose slowly started making progress and his detractors were forced to take another look when he secured successive second places in his native South Africa at the start of 2001.

The real breakthrough came when he clinched his first professional win with victory in the European Tour's Dunhill Championship, again in South Africa, at the beginning of 2002.

He quickly followed it up with another title in South Africa and a win in Japan before landing the British Masters at Woburn in May of the same year.

But this flurry of success was achieved against a background of darkening clouds. Rose's father and mentor Ken was suffering from cancer and he died in September of the same year.

Rose, understandably, took time to readjust before setting his sights on continuing his golfing education on the PGA Tour in America.

Rose hasn't done as well as I thought he would

BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss
He secured his card for 2004, but despite accumulating plenty of money on the lucrative circuit, Rose felt success was slow in coming and split with Leadbetter in 2006 to join up with feisty Englishman Nick Bradley.

The change - and new ideas such as Buddhist relaxation techniques - refreshed him and Rose won the Australian Masters in 2006 and ended 2007 as the European number one after clinching the season-ending Volvo Masters in a dramatic play-off.

He also rocketed to a career-high sixth in the world by the end of the year after a season in which he finished fifth, 10th, 12th and 12th in the year's four majors.

"I'm definitely a better player because of going to America," he said. "And I think that has translated in the majors."

But with Rose's new-found status comes expectation. Rose is in the vanguard of Britain's most promising young pros, along with the likes of Paul Casey and Luke Donald.

But until one of these players fulfils their potential by securing a major title, there will always be the suggestion that they flatter to deceive.

"Rose hasn't done as well as I thought he would," said BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss. "He's suddenly nearer 30 years old than 20."

Nick Faldo, who will captain Rose in his first Ryder Cup this September, said earlier this year that England's current crop need to be stronger mentally.

At the Masters in 2004 Rose followed up his stunning first-round 67 with a third-round 81 to plummet out of contention. He led again after the first round at Augusta in 2007 and 2008 before finishing 5th and 36th respectively.

In 2007, he was one shot off the lead standing on the 17th tee in the final round before an errant drive ended his challenge.

Age: 27
World ranking: 9
Open best: 4th in 1998
2007 Open: Tied 12th
2008 Masters: 36th
2008 US Open: Missed cut
Season's best: 2nd in Memorial Tournament on PGA Tour
But Rose counters the negatives by saying that to fight back from two double bogeys at the start of that round and still be in contention with two holes to play is testament to his fighting spirit.

"The biggest thing I learnt from that was believing that I can really do this [win a major]," he said afterwards.

And he answers Faldo by saying that the six-time major champion only developed his renowned mental strength in his late 20s and 30s.

Rose's form this season has been patchy - second at the Memorial but a missed cut at the US Open - and he admits to having let a few more distractions enter his life.

But with Tiger Woods absent through injury, Rose's dream - admittedly along with everyone else's - has inched just that little bit nearer.

"Winning a major would always be sweeter should you beat him down the stretch but you have to look at it as an opportunity," he said.

"Winning a first major would be an incredibly special moment, no matter who you beat."

If Rose were to win at Royal Birkdale there might be a new contender for loudest cheer in golf. And that's just from the headline writers.

see also
Battle royal at Birkdale
11 Jul 08 |  Golf
Rose reminisces 10 years on
20 May 08 |  Inside Sport

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