Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Justin Rose still is playing golf, still is smiling, still is a polite young fellow. Believe it or not, his career didn’t end after that horrid third round at Augusta National.
Some might have expected the lanky Englishman to crawl away and disappear after that scary Saturday at the Masters, to take at least a short sabbatical from a game that one day can be so marvelous, and the next be so cruel.
In a span of 24 hours, Rose went from shooting 67-71 and being alone at the top of the world’s most famous golf tournament to being a footnote, soaring to an 81 and tying the dubious mark for highest third-round score from a 36-hole Masters leader.
But there Rose was at the MCI Heritage a mere week after Augusta, doffing his cap to applause, signing autographs and courteously agreeing to a lone interview request after Round 2 – a far cry from the swarming sea of media that had awaited him the previous Friday.
“It seems like more than a week,” Rose said, shaking his head and managing a slight grin. “A lot of things have happened since then. I was pretty exhausted on Tuesday and Wednesday (at the MCI).”
But he never considered pulling out, never thought of taking the week off to heal. Rose, only 23, has been through much worse than Augusta National can throw at him, been through more than anyone his age normally bears.
There was the premature death of his father, Ken, his mentor and instructor, from leukemia in September 2002, just one month after watching his son play in his first major in the United States, the 2002 PGA at Hazeltine. There were the 21 consecutive events Rose went without making a cut after turning pro in 1998, immediately after his fourth-place tie as a 17-year-old amateur in the British Open at Royal Birkdale. The 12 months without cashing a single paycheck.
The critics were merciless, the doubts mounting and the pressure ever present. Somehow, the Masters didn’t compare.
“The thing that kept me going was a deep-down self belief that I was always good enough,” Rose said before the third round at Augusta.
Even after his Saturday slip, the belief is still there, buoyed by four worldwide victories in 2002, including a pair on the PGA European Tour.
“It was very frustrating,” Rose said of the Masters third round. “It was more than just one bad day. I had spent two months in preparation for that week. But to keep it in perspective, it’s not even remotely serious. When you look at some of the other experiences I’ve been through and all the terrible things going on in the world, you say to yourself, ‘Hey, stop being such a brat.’ I’m extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
Harbour Town Golf Links, of course, is a better place than most to recover from the wounds a major can inflict. The sea and the sun are a nice backdrop for a tight, traditional layout that players genuinely seem to love. After his first appearance here – a tie for seventh – Rose says you can add him to that list.
“I had always heard Hilton Head was a good week,” he said. “But I’ve been surprised by how absolutely fantastic the course is. It’s one of my favorites that I’ve played, and I hope to keep making this a part of my schedule.”
After receiving his 2004 PGA Tour card by earning $599,874 in only 11 events as a nonmember in ’03, Rose plans to spend more time in the United States and play the minimum 15 tournaments required to retain his card. He arrived here in mid-February, playing five Tour events prior to the Masters and spending his spare time working on his game with instructor David Leadbetter.
And, as you might have guessed, he no longer has trouble making cuts. After the MCI, he’s a perfect 7-for-7, and will look to extend the streak at New Orleans and Houston before returning overseas.
Early in the week at Harbour Town, Rose received congratulations on his first two rounds at Augusta from a steady stream of players, followed, of course, by condolences for his third.
European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer, who at 46 is twice Rose’s age, was one of those offering advice.
“It had to be very difficult for him, (but) I told him to keep your head high, to keep plugging away,” said Langer. “He’ll be fine. He’s been through a lot worse than that.”
Ian Poulter spent time with Rose after each round at Augusta, and said his close friend was the same Saturday night as he was after Round 2.
“He was no different,” Poulter said. “It was the same old, same old, same old. You don’t sit around moping. You eat dinner, watch the telly, have a laugh and go to bed to get ready for the next day.
“I’m sure inside he was very, very disappointed, but at the end of the day, I think he chose to take the positive things out of the week and look at what a tremendous opportunity he gave himself.”
A few signs of left-over frustration did appear during Rose’s first round at Hilton Head. Three late bogeys left him with a 2-over 73 and in danger of missing the cut. After a couple of mis-hit iron shots during that stretch, Rose slammed his club into the turf – because of the poor swings, yes, but also no doubt letting out a little of the pent-up feelings from the week before.
“I got a bit frustrated out there on the golf course (Thursday), and it’s bad enough to be playing badly, but when you behave badly, it makes you look like a real idiot,” he said. “I didn’t do that (at Augusta), so I had at least one thing going for me. I knew I had tried my heart out on every shot.”
In Round 2 at Harbour Town, in danger of missing his first cut of the year, Rose recovered nicely with a 69. On Saturday – exactly one week after that 81 – he went 15 shots lower with a 66.
“At Royal Birkdale (at the ’98 British Open), I was unaware – make that blissfully unaware – of what was going on,” Rose said. “This time, at Augusta, I knew exactly what I was going to face, and I thought I was ready for it. Maybe it’s just one of things I had to go through. I know it will make me better prepared the next time.”