Golf: Rose found game so easy among Birkdale dunes

Ten command performances that lit up 1998
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a time to dream. Christmas for Justin Rose came nearer the longest day of the year than the shortest. At tea-time on a wild and windy Saturday afternoon a 17-year-old amateur led the 127th Open Championship. Rose walked off the 12th green with a par to lead by one from Brian Watts.

Not since Harold Hilton at Hoylake in 1897 had a British amateur won the silver claret jug. There may have been 24 holes to play, but that did not stop Rose thinking ahead. Victory would be difficult to top, or would it? "I guess when I'm 18 you've got to win the Masters, at 19 win the US Open and at 20 win the USPGA," Rose joked. Rose smiled a lot during those few magical days on the dunes of the Lancashire coast, clearly oblivious to what was going on around him.

Royal Birkdale was testing the greatest players in the world and finding most of them wanting. But Rose's 66 on the Friday, in the second round, was the best score of the day, the next best coming from the eventual champion, Mark O'Meara, with a 68. The round equalled the lowest by an amateur in the Open, set by Frank Stranahan and Tiger Woods.

The following day Woods could do no better than a 77 and Nick Price had an 82. Rose, who started the day tied for second alongside the world No 1 and the former Open champion, scored a 75 to lie fifth, three behind Watts.

All along he smiled and waved to a gallery who were in no doubt they had a new hero. "Starting out I didn't realise it would be anything like that," Rose said. "On every hole I got an ovation. It was incredible, people shouting my name. It pushed me on. I saw myself as Jack Nicklaus coming up the 18th."

Rose was never quite in contention on the final day and seemed to be making a mess of the last until his last shot as an amateur, a chip from 45 yards over a couple of bunkers, found the hole. Never has respectful silence from the massed ranks around the 18th green turned to a tumultuous ovation quicker. He deserved it, finishing tied fourth, the best result by an amateur in the Open for 45 years.

It was a brilliant finale to the best week of a young man's life, the unveiling of a bright, new talent. From the perspective of an aspiring professional trying to make his way - so far having missed 10 cuts out of 10 and failed to gain his player's card on the European tour - it is a glorious memory. May it not become a millstone.