DUBLIN, Ohio – Jack’s Place is where Justin Rose first got on the board in the United States, so it seems only fitting that the easygoing Englishman would use the Memorial to vault himself back into a crowded spotlight.
The top shelf has been a busy stage of late, what with the twenty-something threesome of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler dominating the highlight reel with victories from TPC Sawgrass to San Francisco and beyond.
While Rose hasn’t exactly been the forgotten man in all this, what with his victory at the Zurich Classic and a runner-up showing to Spieth at the Masters, in the uber-competitive world of professional golf a select few thrive on the concept of one-upmanship.
Not that Rose would ever admit to such narcissistic underpinnings. He’s far too well-rounded for that. But beyond the easy smile and thoughtful answers dwells a competitor every bit as driven by the concept that “second sucks.”
“Now I'm in a situation where I want to win every year,” said Rose, who carded his best round of the week (66) to move to 15-under 201 at Muirfield Village. “I've got that nice run going six years in a row [with victories]. Now there's pressure to win every year, so you certainly don't get complacent.”
Since that win at the Memorial in 2010, Rose has recorded a victory each year on Tour including the 2013 U.S. Open. It’s a triumph that he links directly back to his breakthrough at Muirfield Village six years ago.
“If you look at my career, to be honest with you, you could say it's gone from strength to strength since getting the monkey off my back and winning here at the Memorial,” said Rose, who leads David Lingmerth (72) and Francesco Molinari (69) by three strokes.
“I was definitely feeling the pressure for a number of years to notch my first PGA Tour victory, and it had become pretty elusive. As time ticks on, it becomes harder and harder.”
The victory also began the legend of Rose’s ballstriking and explains a solid resume at Nicklaus’ central Ohio gem. Quite simply, he is the ultimate second-shot surgeon on the ultimate (outside of Augusta National, of course) second-shot golf course.
Rose’s resume is littered with statements at ballstriking ballparks, from Congressional (2014 Quicken Loans National) and Cog Hill (2011 BMW Championship) to Merion (U.S. Open) he plays his best golf on layouts that reward calculated control from the fairway.
For the week, Rose is first in approach shot distance to the pin, fourth in strokes gained-tee to green and has hit 30 of 42 greens in regulation.
“Majestic,” swing coach Sean Foley said when asked to describe his man’s ballstriking the last few weeks.
Rose didn’t make a birdie putt outside of 7 feet on Saturday and seemed to regain his momentum after a bogey at No. 9, his only miscue on Day 3, with a towering 5-wood that he called “risky” at the par-5 11th hole that set up a tap-in birdie to move to 15 under par and a field goal clear of the field.
His form combined with his record at the Memorial, where he’s finished inside the top 10 five times and was runner-up in 2008, along with the assembled cast behind him gave Rose an air of invincibility when he calmly putted out for par at the demanding final hole Saturday afternoon.
Combined, the top 10 players behind Rose heading into Sunday have 26 Tour titles - most of those belonging to Jim Furyk (17) who is alone in fourth place - and three majors, and he will be joined in the day’s final two-ball by Molinari, a European Tour staple playing his first full season on the PGA Tour.
Furyk, who won this event in 2002, would be the most likely choice, but at 11 under par he would need some help from the front-runner and the weatherman on a golf course that has become increasingly more difficult as a rare dry week in Dublin has progressed.
“It's going to depend on the weather. I think it's supposed to be more breezy tomorrow, supposed to come from the other direction,” Furyk said. “Justin is definitely in control at 15 under par. He's got a lot of experience, obviously one of the best players in the world. He'll kind of control what it's going to take and a lot of the rest of us will have to chase him.”
It’s a position that Rose has become exceedingly comfortable in since that first victory back in 2010.