Rose sets sights on first win

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The Independent Online

Justin Rose feels he is on track to challenge the best players in Europe as he returns to the scene of his professional renaissance today.

Rose missed his first 21 cuts on the European Tour after turning professional the day after finishing fourth in the Open as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998. The 21-year-old had to make three consecutive visits to the qualifying school and 122nd on the Order of Merit in 2000 represented his best finish until his breakthrough last season.

Rose began the season in fine form, coming close to his maiden professional victory in the opening two events of the year in South Africa. And after finishing the year 33rd on the money list with earnings of around £1 million, Rose believes that first victory and more is around the corner.

"Last year was a springboard that got me back on the right track and I think it's important to build on that this year," Rose said ahead of the South African Open here. Obviously the first win is a big priority and the sooner that comes, the better. That's the main goal.

"Another goal is also to putt more consistently. I would call myself a streaky putter and I didn't putt well last year, apart from on two or three occasions. You can't do that out here and be expecting to win tournaments."

He will face stiff competition this week at the Country Club in Durban with the defending champion Mark McNulty, the World Cup winners Ernie Els and Retief Goosen and the former Open champion Paul Lawrie all in the field.

Goosen ended the year as the European No 1 after following his US Open win with two more victories and said he felt rested and refreshed. "I didn't play Tiger Woods' event in the end because I was just too tired," Goosen said. "I had a three-week break and that helped. I played nine holes of golf during that time and that was it."

Armed police accompanied Woods in Wellington as he compiled a six-under-par 65 in the pro-am on the eve of the New Zealand Open.

Guards have also been placed on roads and bridges leading to the links course in Paraparaumu after a letter threatening to disrupt the event and containing cyanide was sent to the US embassy.

"After 11 September, obviously we sat down with the police and reviewed our security requirements so we'd already beefed them up quite substantially," David Pool, the tournament organiser, said. "The latest threat has obviously caused us to review them yet again and the police are taking the appropriate measures to make it a safe environment for people to come out and watch the golf."

Pelting rain interrupted the pro-am and further showers and northerly winds were forecast for the first round.