ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It’s hard to think of Justin Rose as a member of the European Tour’s old guard, but the Englishman assumes that role against a young upstart in the final round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Rose will go head-to-head with Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, one of the most exciting prospects in world golf. The Englishman holds a two-shot lead at 12 under over Olesen and Welshman Jamie Donaldson, but plays with the 23-year-old Dane in the final group.
The 32-year-old “veteran” carded a 4-under 68 Saturday while Olesen and Donaldson had matching 69s to get to 10 under.
With the surprise exit of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods via the 36-hole cut, Rose, at No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is expected to win the title Sunday. Don’t discount Olesen, though. Rose says the Dane is quite capable of taking the title.
“Thorbjorn’s a good young player capable of shooting a 65 tomorrow,” Rose said.
Olesen, in only in his third season as a European Tour pro, improved in each of his two seasons. In 2011, he finished 48th on the money list and narrowly lost the rookie of the year award to England’s Tom Lewis.
Last year, Olesen won his first European Tour title, the Sicilian Open, to place 15th in the European pecking order. He finished the season inside the world top 50 and will play in this year’s Masters. Many observers expect him to win again this year, perhaps this week.
He certainly has the right attitude: the confidence of youth.
“I’m going to try to be aggressive,” Olesen said. “I thought I was pretty aggressive today, but I didn’t hole the putts I needed to. But I played well, and hopefully I can make a few more putts tomorrow.”
It’s a refreshing attitude from someone who has little experience of going head-to-head with a marquee player down the stretch with a tournament on the line.
Rose has no worries about performing under pressure in big championships. The Englishman has victories at last year’s WGC–Cadillac Championship, the 2011 BMW Championship and the 2010 Memorial Tournament on his resume.
“It’s pretty good right now when I’m in and around the lead,” Rose said about his game under pressure.
It doesn’t seem too long ago that Rose was just an 18-year-old amateur finishing fourth in the 1998 Open Championship. He turned pro straight after and endured 21 straight missed cuts before getting his game together. He knows what it’s like to be part of the up-and-coming generation.
“There’s always a changing of the guard at some point,” Rose said. “It’s always been Monty (Colin Montgomerie) and (Darren) Clarke and (Lee) Westwood. But at some point, you look to guys like Thorbjorn to fill, which is great for European golf.
“He’s a good ball striker. He’s a fit, strong, young guy. He seems to have confidence about him. Seems to handle situations well. Seemed to do very well at The Open Championship when he played with Tiger.”
Donaldson has matured into a decent player after years as a journeyman. He also earned his first European Tour victory last year, winning the Irish Open. His strategy Sunday is simple.
“Play your own game,” said Donaldson, who plays with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee. “I won’t be paying too much attention to what everyone else is doing. Head down, get in your bubble and keep taking one hole as it comes, put the ball in play and see if you can make a few birdies.”
All eyes, however, will be on the final group featuring the one-time prodigy who lost his way and has come good against the young pretender.
Tiger and Rory who?