James Lawton: The time might just be right for Justin Rose to blossom among azaleas at Augusta
Relaxed Englishman is at the optimum age, and finding the form, to claim that elusive major in Augusta
There has never been and never will be a perfect age to win the Masters. Tiger Woods took his first at 21, Jack Nicklaus his last when he was 46.
It can be a sweet, quick, explosive love affair and it can be whole wars of attrition. But then when you work out the equation of pain and joy, the flashes of inspiration and the maturing of a competitive edge, it can be seen that there is an optimum time to make the big move.
This is 32 years of age, young enough to be still physically strong, old enough to have shed at least some of the foolishness. This, anyway, is the average age of a man putting on the Green Jacket for the first time.
Justin Rose is 32. He is also ranked at his highest, No 3, in all those years since the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale when as a teenager he chipped in from 50 yards to tie for fourth place – and provoked the then Royal and Ancient secretary Michael Bonallack to exclaim, "He's Britain's answer to Tiger Woods."
That was a burden which grew, notoriously, with every missed cut– there were 21 straight – at the dawn of his professional career. Yet here he had never worn it quite so lightly.
"I have had my moments here," he said, "and I think have reason to believe I can have a few more – and with the hope of a better final result.
"Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don't have the necessary skills to back it up. I think now that I have a lot of trust in my game and I feel like if I put myself in a situation with a chance to win I have the tools at my disposal to enjoy the occasion and at the very least for it not to be overwhelming.
"This doesn't necessarily make it any easier but I know I can do it. This is very important and I would say that for me it has come about in the last three years. I would say that I have emerged from what was a rocky kind of professional career, ups and downs.
"I always had good years, bad years, but I feel that has changed. I feel that in recent years I have got in a nice run of form. It makes me believe everything is a lot more sustainable. I have a good group of people around me now and I believe I finally know what I'm doing.
"Obviously, I hope that being 32 is a good omen. I always felt heading into my thirties and since turning 30 that the years between 30 and 40 would be my prime.
"It was the time to put into practice all the things that I learnt and often had to learn the hard way. It makes me feel very much that in the next phase of my life I can make a great career. I hope 32 is the magic number. There's a few of us, including Adam Scott, at this age but I'm very glad to be one of them."
Certainly it is true that no one, barring the recent eruption of a besieged Rory McIlroy, has more seriously disputed the inevitability of the renaissance of Woods as the man to paralyse the nerve of any opponent.
He shares the Tiger's coach, the controversial Canadian guru Sean Foley, and along with the new confidence in his own technique is the belief that if the restored No 1's power to intimidate can still be felt, it is no longer something to drain away all of a talented golfer's self-belief.
"Yes, Tiger still knows how to apply the pressure," Rose said after following him home in second place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, "but then these days it is not too hard to remember that you do have a few strengths of your own. I take a lot of confidence from this week. I'm still not getting the most out of my game but it is also kind of nice to think that I'm still getting results like this and that there is still a lot of room for improvement."
He thinks, too, that if he does win a major it might well be here. In his seven previous appearances he has either led or shared the lead at some point, most notably when he tracked Zach Johnson home in 2007 having led after the first round. He was two strokes back on the 17th tee of the final round before his drive hit a tree and flew 70 yards to an adjoining fairway. "It wasn't such a bad shot but the consequences couldn't have been much worse," Rose said.
He came in tied for fifth, which was also his highest placing in the US Open four years earlier. Last year he achieved his best finish in a major, third in the US PGA.
If the collision with the tree belongs to another age of uncertainty, the wound still runs deeply enough.
"I still had a chance when it happened, I was two strokes back but if I still had an outside shot I was definitely enjoying the moment. I remember standing on the 17th, after birdieing 16, and Tiger hit a shot in on 16 close. Just being involved in the tournament made me feel I was living my boyhood dreams. I felt very calm, very comfortable and I just remember really enjoying it.
"I didn't hit a particularly bad tee shot, not as I remember it. It was on the right side of the fairway and it hit one of those trees and I just don't know how it finished as it did. It sort of ricocheted 70 yards back down 15. It was the first tree off the fairway. I managed to mess it up from there, which was a pity.
"The big danger here is getting ahead of yourself, letting your emotions run too hard. Until you have gone through Amen Corner, any round of golf, any given day, no scorecard is safe, and that leads you into a Sunday knowing that if you're within five shots of the lead you still have a chance.
"Wonderful things can happen here at Augusta – eagles, birdies, all sorts of great things. Anything can happen and the more you play it the more you realise it is true."
Perhaps, who knows, an Englishman can win it for the first time since Nick Faldo invaded the last of Greg Norman's composure in 1996. "I was watching that back in the front room in Fleet, Hampshire, with my family. I was a two-handicapper intent on being a professional golfer. Faldo and Norman and Seve [Ballesteros] were the three guys I looked up to as a kid and that final day in 1996 was amazing. I watched it unfold and was trying to learn from it.
"I suppose I was just beginning to understand how important the mental side of the game is. This was the first time I really recognised this."
Today he talks about the new golf with his space-age guru Foley, who also spends time discussing hip-hop and various levels of spirituality alongside such modern golf concepts as Trakman – and the "de-plane".
"I suppose in one way I've had to re-learn the game," he says. More significantly, perhaps, he may have completed the most vital course of all. He may just have completed the study of himself – at the right time and in the right year.
Rose in numbers
5= Rose's best Masters finish was a share of fifth in 2007.
2003 The Englishman made his Augusta debut a decade ago, finishing in a tie for 39th place as Canadian Mike Weir won following a play-off.
3 Rose reached a career-best third in the world rankings last month.
32 Average age of a Masters winner – which happens to be Rose's current age.
7 Rose has made the cut in each of the seven Masters tournaments he has entered.
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