ST. ANDREWS, Scotland The grandstands were nearly deserted on the eve of the 150th British Open, the rain falling in droplets at first and, later, angled lashes. Just before lunchtime, England's Ian Poulter stepped onto his balcony by the 17th hole of the Old Course Hotel and took a picture of the hardy souls passing beneath his window Kenny Perry, Nick Watney, a few other gamers.
\nBut he was too late to catch Justin Rose.
\nThe young Englishman had risen with the seagulls Wednesday morning to look for answers in the wind and the rain, which is the way the locals say golf should be played, and the way the forecast is shaping up for golf's oldest major championship. With rain hitting his face and clothes, Rose completed the back nine as intended.
"I practiced last week with a westerly wind and, obviously, it's blowing out of the east right now, so I was quite excited to feel like I've played both sets of winds that impact the golf course," Rose said. "But the last four or five holes coming in were crazy, really, the proper sideways rain that everybody dreads. But I think it was a valuable hour."
\nOn the strength of two PGA Tour wins in a five-week stretch, Rose has risen from the pack of talented players to the short list of possible contenders this week. In the Ladbrokes betting house a popular spot in St. Andrews this week Rose's arrival as an elite player is reflected in the odds. If you want action on the top-finishing British and Irish players, you can get Rose at 7-to-1 (behind only Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy at 5-to-1 and England's Lee Westwood at 6-to-1). To win the claret jug, Rose is 20-to-1. He has the length off the tee and the putting touch that St. Andrews requires, not to mention an old golfing soul.
\nTwelve years ago, as a 17-year-old amateur, Rose finished fourth at the Open at Royal Birkdale, warmed the hearts of the United Kingdom, turned professional, and missed 21 straight cuts. He took a beating in the press, which wondered if his star turn at Birkdale had been a fluke, and his turning professional so early a mistake.
\n"I think the Open Championship, finishing fourth there, skewed things for me in terms of my expectations and certainly everybody else's expectations," Rose said.
When a golfer misses 21 straight cuts, you have to wonder if he'll even enter the 22nd tournament. Rose did, at the 1999 Compaq European Open at Slaley Hall, and earned his first paycheck. Just as he slowly began to cobble together a career on the European Tour, his father and mentor, Ken, was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 2002. Rose says he was knocked sideways, a 22-year-old trying to grieve and compete at the same time.
In 2004, he moved to Orlando with his girlfriend, Kate (they married in December of 2006), and Rose's reputation as a solid PGA Tour pro with a few wobbly parts began to take hold. He led the Masters after the first round in 2004, 2007 and 2008, only to fade as the pressure heightened. All that time in the fire seemed to steel him, however, as did the early criticism of his decision to turn pro. Even after his first PGA Tour win at this year's Memorial in June, Rose sounded like a man who had built a husk around his golfing being.
"I think I'm very much a forgotten man right now in English golf," Rose said. "Another reason why I'm here today is I haven't let it bother me, either. I've played for myself. When you get into that mindset, everything else does tend to disappear."
Rose, now ranked 16th in the world, will not be a forgotten man this week. He will be paired with Tiger Woods and Camilo Villegas the first two rounds.
If it starts to rain, the smart money should go on Rose.