Rose more full-grown, his play sprouting up

Fourth in '98 Open as teen, he hit a slump but has regained touch


British Open

July 18, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GULLANE, Scotland - Four years ago, Justin Rose found his way into contention in the British Open at Royal Birkdale. An amateur a few days shy of his 18th birthday, Rose wound up fourth. Mark O'Meara won the tournament, but Rose won the hearts of the English fans in his adopted country.

That week seems like a lifetime ago considering what Rose has gone through since. He turned pro the day after the Open ended but fell into oblivion amid a blur of 21 straight missed cuts. He failed to get through qualifying school for the European PGA Tour later that year.

"Deep down, I had the belief I was eventually going to get there," Rose recalled this week at Muirfield, where play begins today in the 131st Open.

"On the surface, I didn't know how long it was going to take me.

"When you're putting in a lot of hard work and not seeing the results, it gets very frustrating. I think deep down I never doubted the fact that I was going to eventually get where I wanted to be."

Now a few days shy of his 21st birthday, Rose has arrived. Though still a bit erratic in his performances, Rose has won four times this year, with two victories in his native South Africa, one in Japan and the most prestigious coming in last month's British Masters.

Asked what turned things around, Rose said: "I think just hard work eventually paying off, really. There was no defining moment where suddenly everything clicked. It was sort of a gradual process ... gradually improving, working on my technique, just a gaining of confidence."

Today could be another defining moment for Rose, who will play in the same threesome as Tiger Woods and Shigeki Maruyama of Japan.

"I supposed it hasn't sunk in like that; it's the world's No. 1 and I'm on the world stage with him," said Rose, who has climbed to 41st in the world rankings. "I'm sure I will be nervous. It's a major championship, first round. There's going to be a lot of attention. There's going to be a huge atmosphere, but hopefully that atmosphere can spur you on to play great golf.

"But you have to relish it, I think. It's something I want to do. I want to compete against Tiger, you know, sooner rather than later. I've got to play with him for the first time at some stage, so to do it in the Open Championship in front of British fans would be no better place."

Els tries to shake slump

Ernie Els is considered among the top five contenders here this week, but it's based more on his recent performance in the Open than his recent play.

The two-time U.S. Open champion finished in a distant second-place tie behind Woods two years ago at St. Andrews and tied for third last year at Royal Lytham. But after winning twice on the European Tour earlier this year, Els hasn't played well of late.

"I have to play a lot better," said Els, 32, who finished tied for 24th at last month's U.S. Open after finishing tied for fifth at the Masters. "But the shots aren't coming out the way I'm visualizing them at the moment, so it's a little difficult. If I get my game together, I've got to keep it there ."

No policy change on women

Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Association, responded to recent comments by a couple of British sports ministers who have criticized Muirfield for its exclusionary policy regarding female members.

"I think the ministers' comments were pretty unfortunate," Dawson said yesterday. "We announced this was going to be the venue for the Open championship four or five years ago. It's strange that we have had no remarks from the ministers in all that time about the choice of venue, but during the week of the championship suddenly we do."

Dawson said that the comments by the sports ministers, who are member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet, will not force the all-male club to make any changes in its membership policies.

"We believe there is plenty of room in the game for all types of clubs, be they all-male, be they all-female, or be they all-mixed," Dawson said. "But we do feel that in mixed clubs equal rights should apply. ... We have no apology about this and we're very honored to be here."

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