This may be Justin Rose’s prime moment to win a major — if he can learn from past mistakes

April 10, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It's Sunday night after the 2007 Masters, and at a beer-and-wings bar somewhere in Augusta, Justin Rose is quietly drinking.

The Englishman was drowning his sorrows after challenging for a green jacket and failing on the 71st hole. "I had a chance," he said in his Tuesday press conference. "I was one back from [eventual winner] Zach [Johnson] with two to play. That's how I remember it, anyway."

And then his drive at 17 clattered off one of Augusta's skyscraping pine trees. "I remember standing on the 17th tee having just birdied 16 and Tiger hit a shot in on 16 close; just being involved in that tournament and just having a chance. I really felt like I was living my boyhood dreams. I felt very calm, very comfortable in that situation, and I just remember really, really enjoying it."

Looking back, Rose blames bad luck rather than a bad swing for his downfall. "I didn't hit a particularly bad tee shot," he said. "I just don't know how it finished where it did. It ricocheted 70 yards back down 15. I managed to sort of mess it up from there." He finished tied 5th.

Rose was an outsider then. But now sitting in the lofty career-high position of World No. 3, he believes 2013 might be the time to be measured for a coveted green jacket. He has led the Masters at some stage in every round. "I feel like it is a course I can win on," Rose said, whose results have improved every year since 2008. He came 8th in 2012. "I think it suits a lot of players though. Bubba obviously, Tiger, Rory, Keegan, Phil and Dustin. So I don't feel I have any particular advantage over those guys. But yes, I do feel it's a course I can do well on."

It has been 17 years since Nick Faldo was the last British golfer to win the Masters in 1996. That's the year 1 B.T. Before Tiger. A 16-year-old Rose watched it on TV at home in England with his family. "I would have been a plus-2 handicap, so I [knew] I was going to be a pro golfer," he said. "Faldo, Norman and Seve were the three guys I looked up to. That was just an amazing final day, watching it unfold and trying to learn from them, and just beginning to understand how important the mental side of the game is."

Rose infamously missed 21 cuts in a row after turning professional following his stellar performance finishing tied for fourth as a 17-year-old at the 2008 British Open. "Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don't have the necessary skills to back it up," he said. But Rose has matured and worked hard at his game under the tutelage of Tiger's swing coach Sean Foley for the past four years. "Now that I have a lot of trust in my game, I feel like if I put myself in a situation with a chance to win, I have the tools at my disposal to enjoy the occasion, and for it not to be overwhelming at least. I would say I have emerged from what was a rocky kind of professional career of ups and downs." Rose, now 32, has 14 worldwide victories including last year's WGC-Cadillac Championship.

He also draws inspiration from the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he fought back to beat Phil Mickelson in the singles and watched his pal Ian Poulter seemingly beat everyone on his own. Rose realized that if Ian could do that at the highest level, then so could he. "Poulter has that ability to switch on and seize the moment," Rose said. "That's what I've begun to do a lot better job with. Relish the moment. Live for it. It's not always a comfortable feeling. But if you can learn to love it, that's what it's all about."

Rose said he no longer fears being in the furnace on the final day. "You can be trembling and shaking but what I've learned is you don't have to be in complete control of your body. As long as you are in complete control of your mind, the body will follow."

This may be the positive influence of the Foley Effect. What has he learned from his deep-thinking guru? "American hip?hop, a lot of philosophy and spirituality stuff," Rose said with a grin. "It's very varied when you work with Sean. He does go off on some fun tangents."

A numbers cruncher has calculated that 32 is the optimum age to win the Masters. "I hope that's a good omen," Rose said, daring to dream about heading back to buy the drinks at Somewhere In Augusta-this time in a green jacket. "When I am next in a high pressure moment, I now have the Ryder Cup to draw upon," he said. "It's really good to know."