Low-key Justin Rose is worth a long look as Masters contender

Mar 15, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Justin Rose walks off of the seventh tee box during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge . Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Low-key Justin Rose is worth a long look as Masters contender

PGA Tour

Low-key Justin Rose is worth a long look as Masters contender

AUGUSTA, Ga. – High confidence, low expectations. 

That’s Justin Rose’s mindset heading into the 82nd Masters.

Rose, a 37-year-old Englishman, has plenty of reasons to be positive in his 13th return to Augusta National.

He’s logged the most birdies of any player since 2012 in this hallowed major, pocketed five top-10 finishes here and been runner-up twice. He has never missed a cut.

So why the measured hopes? A crushing playoff loss to Sergio Garcia a year ago, for one thing, clearly still stings. 

As a reporter rattled off some encouraging numbers Monday, Rose smiled widely, then exclaimed, “Where’s my jacket?”

On Garcia’s shoulders.

Rose held a two-shot lead over Garcia with six holes to play, was up a shot with two left, and missed a makeable birdie putt on 18 that would have had him slipping on the green garb.

Instead the seemingly perpetually star-crossed Spaniard, Rose’s close friend, rallied for his first major win.

Rose said he didn’t watch a replay of last year’s near-miss. No point in doing so really.

“The golf course doesn’t recognize what happened last year,” Rose said. “There’s not a blade of grass that’s here that was here last year. It’s kind of analogy that I’m going with a little bit.

“My skillset should produce a chance to win if all goes well. I need to execute really well this week to have a chance. There’s no point in talking. It’s just about a good game plan around here. I’m not worried about the other players or other variables. I’m coming in as good as I’ve ever played, so I’m excited about that.”

For all the talk about Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson stealing the show this year on Magnolia Lane it would be foolish not to stamp Rose a serious contender.

The world’s fifth-ranked player in 2018 has a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions, four top-10s and finished T-5 at the Valspar Championship and third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

One of the game’s premier ballstrikers, he has vastly bettered his putting in advance of attacking the lightning-quick and often heartbreaking greens of the National. Rose has improved from 123rd at the end of 2017 to 13th in strokes gained with the flatstick.

Seems to warrant more than meager presumptions.

“I would say the consistency of the top-10s that I’ve been having I think are 90 percent due to the putting,” Rose said. “I always hit the ball well. Whenever I putt well, I tend to contend and challenge for the lead.

“I didn’t putt well last week (T-52 in Houston) but until that point I think I was fifth in putting this year. … I’m not sure I’ve ever cracked the top 100 before to be honest. So it’s a big improvement. That’s definitely what I’ve been striving for.”

Adding a Masters championship to his 2013 U.S. Open victory too would sate the steady veteran.

A major upgrade indeed.

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