James Lawton: Faldo leads the admirers at a Rose-tinted spectacle

The Masters: Young Briton steals the attention and the plaudits as a model emerges for a new generation of golfers
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The Independent Online

Whatever else happens to Justin Rose in golf and in life, there is now another day to which he can always return, one that will surely carry him through both the best and the worst of times ­ one of which unfolded in a grotesque rush yesterday when he started his third round with six bogeys in nine holes.

However steep yesterday's decline though, he can say that there was that first day when he announced himself, at Royal Birkdale in The Open, as a 17-year-old of astonishing precocity, and there was this other day ­ 9 April, 2004. Beside the Lancashire coast there was the introduction. Six years later, here on a day when Arnold Palmer left a yearning for the kind of performance he represented at the zenith of his powers, came a definition of a young Englishman's character.

Leading the Masters for two days, underpinning an opening round of coruscating adventure with a return to the second-day action remarkably sound in philosophy and steely in execution, was a rite of passage in itself ­ and one that could not be entirely obliterated by the ambushes of yesterday.

But then there were those other measurements to apply to the course of a young life. There were the 21 successive failures to beat the cut as a teenage professional, a maelstrom of the soul calculated to scar the most obdurate of spirits. There was the death of a beloved mentor and father, and all this in the lee of euphoria that provoked, of all people, former Royal and Ancient secretary Michael Bonallack to declare: "In Justin Rose we have Britain's answer to Tiger Woods."

Assessments this week have, mercifully, been less grandiose, but then they have been founded on something other than the most giddy of wishful thinking. Nick Faldo, the greatest British golfer of all time, was the most compelling witness. "Justin has done himself and British golf so much credit here. He has shown the depth of his determination... and so much talent. It has been a truly impressive performance and it must have a great effect on the rest of his career."

Soon after Rose's superb recovery from a bunker at the last green on Friday afternoon ­ a piece of nerve which preserved his mark of six-under par and condemned reigning champion Mike Weir to an early departure ­ Peter Oosterhuis, former British Ryder Cup player and now a TV golf analyst here, was invited to tell an American audience that inevitably his young compatriot would fold at some point in the next 48 hours.

"I really don't believe it's inevitable," said Oosterhuis. "On two days now we've seen his special qualities, and they have been truly impressive. We have seen his talent for some time, and now we have seen his composure. Of course he is going to be put under immense pressure from some of the world's best and most experienced players. But can he win? Yes, I believe he has both the talent and the character to do it, but if it doesn't happen he definitely isn't just going to walk away."

Such testaments from two pillars of the game carried their own weight, but set against the surly retreat of Colin Montgomerie from another major, and the failure of Darren Clarke to extend his impact beyond a bizarre line in tangerine trousers, Rose's own reaction served as a model for a generation of British golfers who have yet to travel beyond their own well-upholstered safety zones.

Said Rose: "You can't kid yourself to the end of a tournament, and any attention I receive now won't matter when everything comes up for grabs on Sunday afternoon. I know it will get tougher and tougher, but you can still grow in confidence, and I'm hoping that is how the week is building for me ­ and not the other way."

Inevitably, he was asked about those days of teenaged implosion, and how they had been absorbed into his competitive psyche. "The only thing I possibly regret is putting so much emphasis on trying to get my Tour card at such an early age," he said. "At 17 it doesn't really matter if you have a full Tour card. As long as you're accelerating, learning, working and practising, that's the important thing and I haven't lost sight of that. The thing that has always kept me going is a deep-down self-belief that I am good enough to do something in the game.

"All that pressure to beat cuts, all that scrutiny, well I like to think it is something I have drawn from ­ and am drawing from today. There is always pressure in golf, but to be leading the Masters after two days, to be feeling good about my game, well, whatever happens, these have got to be the greatest positives."

As Rose talks with such engaging candour, you are bound to recall the days of European domination, the great wave of Ballesteros, Olazabal, Faldo, Woosnam, Langer and Lyle, and you have to see a point of comparison.

At 23, Rose has already known the extremes of the sporting life, and it is this that was perhaps his most powerful asset going into yesterday's third round. He could hear the thunder of the chase, the cries for the American favourite Phil Mickelson, the quickening pace of the Tiger and the relentless tread of Olazabal and Ernie Els.

The look in his eyes said that this had brought inspiration rather than dread, and if it happened that this in any way changes he knew he would always have a copy of the front page of the Augusta Chronicle, which proclaimed on the day of Palmer's Last Hurrah: "One Rose above the rest".

That, like his performance on and off the great course for two days, was also quite indelible, and this was so despite yesterday's mocking laughter of the golfing gods.