A few hours after his latest PGA Tour success, the player who the Americans are hailing as "the hottest golfer on the planet" touched down here for the JP McManus Pro-Am – and his name was not Tiger Woods.
Justin Rose might not have had the security guards, the paparazzi or even the whispered wisecracks swirling around him in a quite bizarre scenario yesterday but the Englishman did have in his possession a couple of things the world No 1 would envy – two 2010 titles.
While Woods arrived in the British Isles for the first time since the scandal broke on the longest seasonal drought of his career, Rose turned up in the form of his – and almost every other professional's – life. On Sunday, he prevailed in Philadelphia, which just happened to be his second PGA Tour triumph in three starts. Seeing as he held a six-stroke lead in the Travelers Championship, the tournament in between the Memorial and the AT&T National, this has been a staggering spell for a player who had previously had 162 blank weeks in America.
The Rose run was inevitably the talk of the range; indeed, even Woods, himself, was prepared to break his silence to give credit to a man who yet again bounced back from capitulation so impressively. Initially, Woods refused to answer questions as he struggled from the practice area to the first tee through a crowd which topped 40,000. Until a journalist mentioned Justin, that is. "It was a real test because he had a big lead, and then made a couple of mistakes," said Woods, who was the AT&T host before the mistress revelations hit the newsstands. "But he hung in there and got the job done. Justin played great."
Indeed, he did, although not all his peers were so positive in their reaction. Rose's heroics delayed the chartered jet laid on for those pros making the overnight dash across the Atlantic. "When I walked on that plane they all shouted, 'Where've you been? Hurry up, we've been waiting'," laughed Rose. The red eyes suggested his head had not seen too much pillow. "I didn't get any sleep," he confirmed. "We popped a cork, for sure. JB Holmes came over and had some of the champagne because they ran out of beer an hour into the flight. All the boys were great. There was some good banter with a few saying, 'hang in there Rosie, your game will come round'. But mainly it was 'well done, about time'."
In truth, Rose has been a streak waiting to happen ever since he finished fourth in the 1998 Open as a 17-year-old amateur. There have been well-chronicled highs and lows; the former coming in his ascent to world No 6 two years ago, the latter never getting any worse than the 21 cuts he missed on turning pro. But now there seems to be the consistency his talent always promised. Rose has led seven of the last 11 events he has played, inspiring the PGA Tour website to give him the "hottest" tag. It is not just his natural modesty that made Rose doubt that statement.
"I think Graeme McDowell might have a fair case," he said, referring to the Ulsterman who in his last two outings has won the Wales Open and some event called the US Open. "In fact, as Graeme is also a member of Lake Nona, I might not even be the hottest player at my own club."
It was a nice quip that belied the confidence rushing through his veins. Having flirted with falling out of the world's top 100, Rose is back up to 16th. More importantly, however, is the belief he can remain in the elite this time. "I've recognised what works for me," he said. "In the past, I've worried about where I fit in, how I stack up, what people think, where do they rate me, do they or don't they? And I've got to tell you I'm less worried about that. Right now all that's driving me is, 'how good can I get at this game?'"
The next step is as clear as it is daunting. "I established myself in Europe and then it took me a while in America," he said. "The next level would obviously be major championships."
The next major, of course, takes place in nine days' time at St Andrews. It will be a special Open for Rose in that he has always wanted to play a big one at the Home of Golf.
"I dubbed St Andrews my 'Bogey Open', missing it in 2000 and 2005, so I'm glad I've changed the trend," said Rose. "I was first alternate in '05 and that was a terrible day, waiting from the crack of dawn for someone to pull out. I felt like a spare part on the driving range. I vowed never to be that guy again."
Instead, he will go off as one of the favourites. First he must beat the jetlag here and then travel up to golf's most famous links for a spot of reconnaissance. Rose will stay in St Andrews until Friday before returning to London to show off his one-year-old Leo to relatives. He will then fly back to the Old Course on Monday night.
Woods will already be in town by then, although the word is he will board his own private jet back to Orlando tonight and not take the chance to reacclimatise himself with either the links of Ireland or Scotland. This criss-crossing of the pond will raise a few eyebrows, but then with his turbulent family life at the moment it is easy to imagine the need to be near both his children and his advisers. With a divorce apparently pending it makes his appearance here that much more intriguing. As it is for all the top-class pros and actors and football managers and bankers...
Incredibly, 11 of the world's top 15 are in attendance and it would have been 12 if Lee Westwood hadn't injured his calf (the world No 3 has a slight muscle tear and expects to be fit for next week). Outside of the Open, this is the highest-quality field in Europe, so it is little wonder the locals arrived in such numbers. With household names such as Michael Douglas, Samuel L Jackson and Hugh Grant playing, there is something for everyone, but particularly for the local charities who will benefit to the tune of £30m. McManus's pulling power is as legendary as it is mysterious and nobody personifies this better than Woods. He gives this unique event its X-factor. Now more than ever.
On a golfing front, these are critical times as he counts down to the major taking place at his "favourite course on earth". In 13 full seasons as a pro, Woods has never before had to wait until July for his first win of the year. After finishing 46th at the AT&T National he needs to find some form and quickly. Nobody much cares who shoots what here, but still, Woods will be disgusted with his first-round 79. One better than Rose. But the hottest golfer had an excuse.
Star turns: Who's there, and are they any good?
The 12-handicapper's team recorded a commendable 10-under 62 yesterday. The veteran actor who appears in the soon to be released Wall Street II played alongside Paul McGinley and Charlie McCreevy, the Irish politician. Few failed to recognise the irony of Gordon Gekko playing with the former finance secretary.
The chinless wonder did not fare as well as he would have hoped alongside he of the fancy trousers, Ian Poulter, and he of the fancy footwork, Michael Flatley. Grant is a regular on the celebrity circuit and with a seven handicap is by no means a hacker. He will try again today, but this time in the company of the brilliant 17-year-old Matteo Manassero.
The champion horseman had an interesting choice of caddy yesterday – Ruby Walsh. The latter is a keen golfer himself and was seen giving advice to the 14-handicapper. Today McCoy will be able to see far wiser counsel. His pro is one Tiger Woods. If he is feeling shy, he might wish to compare his champion jockey titles (15) to Woods' majors (14).
Nicky, Shane and Mick – but of course not Brian – teed it up with the 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell. The New Zealander has suffered a dramatic tumble down the rankings but was clearly lifted by playing with the boy band. Cambo's 78 was far from embarrassing on a day of high scoring. All together now "You Raise Me Up..."Reuse content