Justin Rose has spent a whole career astonishing his doubters by bouncing back from adversity and at the Aronimink Country Club in Philadelphia the Englishman is doing so again. After blowing a big lead in spectacular fashion last week, Rose takes a four-stroke cushion into today’s final of the AT&T National.
A 67 last night sent Rose to 10-under and gives the 29-year-old the opportunity to forget the capitulation which saw him turn a six-shot cushion into a ninth place finish at last week’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut. Rose, who famously missed 21 cuts in a row on turning pro as a teenager, showed all his recuperative powers to leave the Swede Carl Pettersson and the Korean Charlie Wi leading the pursuit.
What a tremendously gutsy success this would be. The very least of Rose’s ambition will be to secure his berth in next week’s Open field at St Andrews by topping a mini order of merit which has been running on the PGA Tour. The form player in world golf already holds a commanding lead.
Two tournaments ago he won his first American title at the Memorial, last week he seemed certain of going back-to-back before a 75 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
The fear was that belittling experience would precipitate another downturn in Rose’s topsy-turvy career. Yet he has picked himself up so impressively in Pennsylvania. His 64 on Friday was particularly well-crafted and bodes so well for the Old Course. A dozen years after he finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur the Open beckons once more. He will travel to Co Limerick for the JP McManus Pro-Am tonight strongly fancied.
Also on that private jet will be Tiger Woods, arriving in the British Isles for the first time since one of sport’s seediest scandals erupted. But while certain sections of the media will arrive at Adare Manor intent on finding out whether the divorce rumours are true, the golfing spotlight will fall upon his putter. It is fair to say this is not the most functional of relationships at the moment.
Yesterday Woods took 31 more putts in a 70 which left him 13 strokes off the pace. The fact he had finished his third round an hour before Rose started his, only extenuated the forlornness of his position. He wanted to fare so much better in the event he once hosted, but which since the sponsors dropped him in the wake of the revelations, he now only attends because his charity has remained as the beneficiary.
Woods had made the cut with nothing to spare and was looking for a birdie surge to escape the back-markers. Instead, bogeys arrived on the first two holes and by the back nine Woods was forced to fight for a bit of respectability. He managed it, to some extent, with three birdies. But the reality was inescapable.
This is his sixth comeback event from his self-enforced absence and he will cross the pond still awaiting his first victory of 2010. This will be the longest winless stretch he has suffered from the start of a season since 2002. Obviously the circumstances are unique, but so were they when he returned from an eight-month absence after knee surgery last year. He was out of the winner’s enclosure for a whole two tournaments then.
Certainly Woods sounded disconsolate. ““My game’s not quite where it needs to be, not quite sharp yet,” he said. “I hit it awesome, putt awful. I putt great, hit it awful. It's always something.”
At least he claimed to have “found something” on the greens yesterday. In a week in which he admitted being interviewed by federal agents about his involvement with Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor under drug charges, and in which further reports emerged of an impending divorce, the last thing Woods required was for his most cherished club to desert him. Woods will spend today and then the next five days or so in Ireland desperately trying to work on this short-grass improvement before arriving at “my favourite course in the world“.