SOUTHPORT, England – Justin Rose has some unfinished business to attend to in this week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
He wants to complete a journey that started 19 years ago on this very course by winning the 146th version of golf’s original championship.
Those scene of Rose, arms aloft, after holing his third shot for birdie on Royal Birkdale’s 18th hole to finish fourth as an amateur in 1998 is part of Open lore. Flashes of it are used to promote this year’s championship, while the scene has even been immortalized in Lego form, of all things.
Rose’s journey from 17-year-old Open phenomenon to Olympic gold medalist is well documented. Stops along the way included 21 missed cuts to begin his pro career, eight European Tour wins, six PGA Tour victories, including the 2013 U.S. Open, and four Ryder Cup appearances. Yet 1998 remains his best finish in the Open Championship.
The 36-year-old has just one top 10 since, a sixth-place finish at St. Andrews two years ago.
“It’s disappointing,” Rose admitted. “I think maybe the expectation for a number of years afterwards took its toll coming back, trying to live up to it. In some ways, I look back and I try to model it. The freedom I had that particular week, the confidence I had in my short game, the innocence in which I played the game, I think, is kind of still a model. When I looked at my performance here when I was 17, it was very much free, playing with freedom and using my natural ability.
“I do marvel at how I was able to compete so closely down the stretch, and finished within two shots of winning an Open Championship at the age of 17.”
Rose arrives back in Southport as a 22-1 shot with British bookmakers Ladbrokes to take the title. The omens look good after a fourth-place finish in the Irish Open. More importantly, at 36, Rose feels as if he’s back playing with the same freedom he had as a 17-year-old.
“I think that the innocence was quickly taken away from me by missing those cuts and the game became difficult, and then I tried really hard to live up to that achievement,” Rose said. “But I feel like now I’m back to the situation in my career where, yes, I still have a lot to prove to myself, but I have a bit more freedom in which to do it. I’m not trying to prove myself to anybody other than myself. So I think that gives me the freedom to go out and play weeks like this a lot more comfortably than in years past.
“It surprises me after all these years that is still the best finish. Because of that, yeah, unfinished business, for sure. I don’t want to say that if I don’t win this it’s going to be a huge sort of hole in my career, but it was the one tournament that even before I finished fourth here as an amateur, I got to final qualifying the age of 14 and created a bit of a story then. It’s definitely been a championship that I’ve had great moments in.
“To win it would kind of close the book in a way on my Open Championship story.”