Sixteen years ago, a fresh-faced 17-year-old named Justin Rose burst into mainstream consciousness when he holed out from the rough to conclude a T-4 result at his first-ever Open Championship appearance.
He’s spent the years since unsuccessfully trying to re-create that form. Despite turning himself into one of the world’s best players and becoming a major champion for the first time last year, that performance remains his lone top 10 at a tournament which should play to his formidable strengths.
Based on recent form, that could all change next week.
Two weeks after claiming the Quicken Loans National title, Rose once again finds himself in contention at the Scottish Open with one round left to play.
Rose followed opening rounds of 69-68 with a 5-under 66 on Saturday that has him tied for the lead with Marc Warren.
In next week’s major championship that seems as wide open as any of them recently, Rose should be on the short list of players considered serious contenders for the claret jug. He’s among the game’s most talented ball-strikers heading to Royal Liverpool, a course which will require precision off the tee and into the greens.
It speaks volumes of his career renaissance that the last time The Open was held there, just eight years ago, Rose didn’t qualify for the field.
“Missed it because I wasn't very good,” he admitted recently. “That was sort of a re-motivating period of time in my life when I was sort of out on the sidelines missing these majors. I just remember it being burnt out, really warm, people eating ice cream and Tiger [Woods] winning. That's about my memory. I guess I've got some work to do.”
In the years since, he’s made the cut in four of seven starts with a pair of top-15 finishes, but is still chasing his first top 10 since that magical run as an amateur.
Up first, though, is the final round at Royal Aberdeen, where Rose can win multiple professional titles in the same season for just the third time in his career and first since 2007.
At No. 6 in the world, he is the highest-ranked player in the Scottish Open field, and those directly chasing him aren’t exactly a who’s who of elite competitors. Warren is ranked 161st in the world; they are followed in the top five by Kristoffer Broberg (304th), Tyrrell Hatton (217th), Craig Lee (254th) and Ricardo Gonzalez (350th).
If Rose can close out the victory on Sunday, he’ll be trying to emulate the result of Phil Mickelson a year ago, when the left-hander used a Scottish triumph as a springboard to his first Open Championship title.
For a player who hasn’t so much as posted a top 10 since turning pro, that should give him plenty of confidence heading to Hoylake.