AUGUSTA, Ga. — England’s Justin Rose was just one shot off the lead on Sunday at last year’s Masters when disaster struck on the 17th tee. His drive hit the trees on the right, and his chances of winning a first green jacket were gone. Maybe the pressure got to him. Maybe it was just a bad swing.
“That is such a hard tee shot,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “And, actually, I was enjoying the moment, lapping it up. I hit it maybe 20 yards right. It wasn’t an awful tee shot. I don’t know how my ball ended up down the 15th fairway. I couldn’t believe it.”
Rose’s ball hit a tree and bounced downhill.
“I had a 3-wood into that green, which was impossible,” Rose said. “I was just trying to hit a career Seve shot. But it didn’t come off.”
Result: double bogey. Returning this week as the No. 1 European player and ranked No.9 in the world, Rose arrived at the 17th during his first practice round and all those memories came flooding back. “Yeah, I did take a long hard look at that tree,” Rose said on Tuesday, smiling. “I didn’t think they would appreciate me chopping it down.”
Result: pure drive straight down the middle. “Wish I had done that last time,” he said.
In 2007 Rose had the second best record in the majors behind Tiger Woods. This year, he feels he is ready to win that first elusive major. And he has a plan. For his second practice round, he walked the back nine for two-and-a-half hours armed with just his sand wedge, lob wedge and putter. It is a plan that Phil Mickelson has used in previous majors to map out his short game.
“I was hitting from areas I know I’m likely to miss to,” Rose explained. “So, for example, I know that your miss at 11 is going to be right, so I hit a few chips from the right side.”
But what Rose can’t practice or replicate is what the pressure is like playing in the final group with Woods. “He lives in that world of hype that has grown, because of him, day-in, day-out,” Rose said. “That’s probably a big advantage he has over other guys trying to compete with him in his environment. You know, standing on the first tee, crowd 20-deep, 500 cameras. That’s how he plays every round of golf his whole life.”
Rose does know something about holding a lead at the Masters. In each of his three previous visits to Augusta, he has been on top of the leaderboard at some point in time, even if it was a very brief stay. Does he think he can finish atop the leaderboard on Sunday evening?
“Yeah, I believe that,” Rose said. “I have good and bad experiences at Augusta, and you learn from them. Last year, I felt comfortable in the hunt all week. I was on the leaderboard from day one and I enjoyed it. The biggest thing about winning a major is believing you can. Last year was key for me in making that step up.”