Exclusive: Justin Rose up for the fight as Westwood goes into Rocky mode - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Exclusive: Justin Rose up for the fight as Westwood goes into Rocky mode

England's Rose tells Kevin Garside he is now at the peak of his powers while the world No 3 puts his game face on

Flags stiffening in the breeze, the yellow of the leaderboard made livid by the blue sky framing it, screams of "Lee, Lee" as the local favourite made his way from the driving range to the chipping area behind the 18th green; oh yes, in every fantastic detail the splendour of the 130th Open Championship was revealed. Royal Lytham was ready, eager for the whistle to blow.

Tiger Woods did not appear. Rory McIlroy neither. For the star spotters, Lytham offered only pared-down fare for much of the day. The work was done. That did not stop the Lancastrian citizenry colonising the walkways and viewing bays surrounding the practice areas. Shortly after lunch, Lee Westwood's migration to the first tee via the bridge that connects the range produced a micro frenzy. His minder, the venerable Louis Martin, explained that it would not be possible for Westwood to sign every cap and programme thrust his way.

There was help at hand. Moving purposefully in the direction of Westwood was Graeme McDowell, who provided a suitable substitute for the affections of the cognoscenti. Affirmed by the interest their appearance excites, players are largely happy to oblige but there is a noticeable change of atmosphere as the clock counts down. Westwood was edging into Rocky mode. Like the course, he was ready to go.

Encouraged by the belated appearance of the British summer, Westwood went out with ISM stablemates Matthew Baldwin, Scott Pinckney and Branden Grace. For them it presented a rare opportunity to observe a global power at close quarters. Baldwin took advantage of the same invitation at the US Open and prospered as a result, making the cut and banking four days at a major championship at the first attempt.

The stakes are necessarily higher for Westwood, given the contradiction inherent in a world ranking of three and a CV that shows zero major victories. He is bored of the discussion. "I think we have sucked that lemon dry," was his response when the paradox was raised earlier in the week. We would all be grateful were he to end that discussion for all time on Sunday. He has the game, and with the weather mercifully in retreat, is less likely to be tripped by the weird variables that bring unfancied runners into play.

That is not a label that could be hung around Justin Rose's neck. In the imagination, Rose is forever 17, chipping in at the last at Birkdale to seal fourth place. That unfettered expression of youth takes its place in the gallery of magic moments produced by this event. We are reminded of it in the short film produced by his club manufacturer TaylorMade, which reveals just how the sport has changed in the intervening 14 years.

Rose returns to the Lancashire coast a force almost as formidable as Westwood. His victory at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral in March marked the apotheosis of a career maturing at a rapid rate. He stands at a career-high ninth in the world rankings and if bearing is any guide already carries himself with the authority of one ready to make an impression 20 miles north of where it all started for him. "I said when I reached 30 that the next 10 years would be my prime and it has started out that way," said Rose, who turns 32 next week.

"I've won some good tournaments in America, won a WGC, feel at a nice place to build further. Darren [Clarke] was 42 when he won his major so I have got 40 more to go. Hopefully one will come my way. I've been close to crossing the finishing line. It used to be a rollercoaster but now I no longer fall off the map. I remember my old coach Nick Bradley saying at 28 that I'd play my best golf at 30 onwards and thinking that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I'm a lot more mature now, and his words have proved wise ones."

Rose is grouped with his friend and contemporary Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods. The latter has dominated the build-up as if the last four years had never happened. The commentary on Woods is a glass half-full. When set against his three PGA Tour victories this year, his two missed cuts count for little. Yet over a career that shows a total of only nine missed weekends compared to 74 wins, the significance of the failures is surely greater. Reason has no voice in a debate with romantics and so Woods tops the betting.

The prospect of two days in his company is no longer the overwhelming experience it was for the players, at least not for Rose, who tells how an intimate address delivered by his father and mentor, Ken, before their pairing at in 2002 still resonates today. "Once it was a hindrance, which I might have tried to spin into being a help. Now it is just a matter of fact, it's normal. I have been around a long time. It was a big deal in 2002, Tiger at his peak. I'd just had a hot summer, I was a young kid and I was thrown into the deep end.

"My dad gave me a great speech on the Wednesday night. He must have been pretty sick at the time. What he said put it into perspective for me, talking about what we'd dealt with as a family, so that stepping on to the first tee to play with Tiger paled by comparison. Any time I am coming down the stretch in contention it is an exciting prospect, not daunting at all, the hard things in life come in other areas. Dad taught me enough to make my own decisions, don't regret anything, which is a nice place to be. It would be nice if he were here to share the moment. Maybe I could use that speech this week as motivation."

Two months later, Ken Rose lost his battle with cancer at just 57. Victory for his son a decade on would be nice, but not everything. And that is how it should be.

Three to watch: Trio worth a seaside flutter

Winner: Lee Westwood

Second favourite in betting at 16-1. This place is made for his accuracy off the tee. Seven top-three finishes in last 16 majors. One must drop soon, surely.

Each-way bet: Louis Oosthuizen

Loves a windy links and is approaching the form he showed in winning the Open two years ago. At 49-1, he has to be worth a fiver of anybody's money.

Mad bet: Paul Broadhurst

Is 1000-1 on some exchanges. Lost out in play-off to hand Westwood his first pro win in Scandinavia 16 years ago. He's waited too long for revenge.

Selected tee times

For today's opening round of the Open (Eng unless stated):

8.58am V Singh (Fiji), N Watney (US), I Poulter

9.09am D Clarke (NIrl), E Els (SA), Z Johnson (US)

9.20am L Westwood, Y Fujimoto (Japan), B Watson (US)

9.31am D Johnson (US), G McDowell (NIrl), H Fujita (Japan)

9.42am T Woods (US), J Rose, S Garcia (Sp)

10.04am T Bjorn (Den), A Baddeley (Aus), C Schwartzel (SA)

2.10pm B Van Pelt (US), F Molinari (It), T Muto (Japan)

2.21pm R McIlroy (NIrl), L Oosthuizen (SA), K Bradley (US)

2.32pm R Fowler (US), P Harrington (Irl), M Trappel (Aut)

2.43pm L Donald, P Mickelson (US), G Ogilvy (Aus)

2.54pm S Stricker (US), T Taniguchi (Japan), A Hansen (Den).

Best of the tweets

Lee Westwood It's a bit windy today. More like open championship weather! Practice at 2.20

Robert Karlsson Just pulled out of the British open. Have got into some bad habits in my game and routine that I need to address. taking a few weeks off.

Ian Poulter Great day on the links today, Note to self never listen to the weather forecast because its rubbish.

Weather forecast

Today A small chance of rain early in the morning and at noon, otherwise remaining overcast. Maximum temperature: 15C

Tomorrow Cloudy with sunny intervals, remaining dry all day. 16C

Saturday Staying dry and overcast, with spells of sunshine. 17C

Sunday Similar conditions, remaining dry with some sun. 18C

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