SANDWICH, England -- Justin Rose fancies the four-hole closing stretch at Royal St. George’s, site of this week's Open Championship.
"Four pars to win the championship," said Rose on Tuesday. The Englishman made a name for himself at the 1998 Open when he finished tied for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale.
When Rose played a practice round on Monday, he hit driver-3-iron into the 15th hole, a 500-yard par-4, which was playing into the wind.
On Tuesday Rose described the 16th hole as "innocuous" for the three rounds, "until Sunday where they put the pin on the right-hand side near a bunker, which can take you a few shots to get out."
Just ask Thomas Bjorn, who led by four strokes with three to play at the 2003 Open.
Instead of making the conservative play, Bjorn took dead aim and slightly pushed the shot into the deep sod bunker. He took three swipes before finally managing to escape the hazard. Just like that, Bjorn lost his chance to hoist the claret jug.
Conditions on Tuesday took a blustery turn compared to Monday’s sunny skies and warm weather, as gusts approached 30 mph. Thing is, it was blowing from a different direction on Tuesday than what's expected for the rest of the week.
Rose, who is coming off a T14 finish at last week's weather-plagued Scottish Open , chose not to play the course and spent the day on the practice areas. He started with a long session at the range, where he worked with instructor Sean Foley.
Despite the overcast skies, Rose wore his dark sunglasses as he walked to the cart that shuttled him to the chipping green. A group of kids on the other side of a wire fence called to him. He stopped to sign autographs for the growing crowd.
Echoing many players who competed at the ’03 Open at Royal St. George's, Rose admitted it isn't his favorite venue.
"To be honest with you, it’s the one on the rotation that’s probably my least favorite because of my experience in ’03," said Rose near the chipping green as drizzle began to fall on Tuesday afternoon. "I shot, like, 15-over, and really struggled. I couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway."
Rose went on to miss the cut.
Eight years later, Rose has changed his tune after Monday's practice round, where he kept his sense of humor.
"It’s the kind of course where there are more blind shots than most good golf courses have and there are some quirky bumps and hollows," Rose said. "But this year it’s slightly wider off the tee, slightly less rough, which makes it a little more playable."
What Rose appreciates most about the changes to the course are their subtlety, saying the R&A didn't go "overboard," and "it doesn't necessarily feel like you're playing a new course."
The right side of the 18th fairway has been widened by about eight yards , giving players more room off the tee to avoid the deep bunkers on the left. Because of the ample slopes and bumps in the fairway, a good drive can kick left or right, but the best play is to favor the right side.
"In 2003 your ball used to run into the right rough, and the green slopes right-to-left, so from the right rough, you couldn't keep the ball on the green," said Rose, who patiently answered questions for nearly ten minutes.
With the extra eight yards of fairway, a ball that lands in the fairway has a greater chance of staying in the short grass, allowing players to better control their approach shots.
Rose expects the links golf course to test the field and produce an interesting Open Championship, especially if the wind continues to blow at 30 mph.
"Everyone is going to have bad breaks out there, " Rose said. "The guy who is most patient and accepts it the best is going to have a good chance -- provided he’s playing half decent." (Photo: Peter Morrison/AP)