Having laid to rest the ghost of Tony Jacklin last month by becoming the first Englishman to win the US Open since that son of a Scunthorpe lorry driver in 1970, Justin Rose and his fellow English golfers are still haunted by the ghost of Sir Nick Faldo at the Open Championship.
It is now 21 years since a son of St George has lifted the Claret Jug – and here we are back at Muirfield, scene of that Faldo victory in 1992. The last player to win the American and British Opens in the same year was Tiger Woods in 2000. Before that there was Lee Trevino in 1971.
Rose and Faldo played nine holes of practice together yesterday. Maybe the stars are aligning again during this Great British Summer of Sport. The new world No 3 will begin to find out if he is still touched by that Merion magic as he plays the first two rounds of the 142nd Open with defending champion Ernie Els and American Ryder Cup player Brandt Snedeker.
“The Open Championship as a British player is the one event you look forward to more than any other,” Rose said. “Coming here off the back of my first major makes it even more special, even more exciting than normal.”
Rose has been parading with his US Open trophy all week. But it is the Claret Jug that he wants now. At least the R&A gets the silverware engraved with the champion’s name. Rose said the tightwads at the United States Golf Association leave it to the champion to do his own engraving. Presumably they would rather he does not scratch it on with a kitchen knife or a sharp stick.
“I’m hoping to get a two-for-one deal this year,” Rose said, revealing that the engraver at Muirfield is going to add Rose’s name to the US Open trophy. “I’m hoping to get a discount for bulk,” he said. He might be a multimillionaire major champion residing in Florida but he has not lost his British eye for a bargain.
Life has changed for Rose, though. When he arrived at Muirfield for the 2002 Open he was only four years removed from that chip in at Royal Birkdale that made his name, followed by the 21 missed cuts in a row after he turned professional. He and his pal Ian Poulter drove into town in an Austin Powers-style Jaguar splashed in Union flag livery.
“Ah the Shaguar, as it was called,” Rose said grinning. “That was obviously all a bit of fun. The nose was so long on that Jag, I touched the front wall as I was parking,” he said. No such flash statement of youth this time. Rose is now 32 and a serious contender on the world stage. “There’s times in my career where I haven’t been able to close out tournaments as well as I’d like. I now believe in myself 100 per cent down the stretch,” he said.
An English pal and Ryder Cup colleague hoping to ride Rose’s wave of optimism is Luke Donald. If this is The Year The Nice Guys Can Win, Donald is a worthy candidate to join Rose and Masters champion Adam Scott. “They’ve had similar career paths, up until they won a major, to myself,” said Donald. “I feel like, hopefully, my turn’s coming. They’ve stepped up a gear and I would love to follow in their footsteps.”
Donald plays with Scott and Matt Kuchar. He senses Muirfield’s demand for precision over power suits him perfectly. And the list of past champions here (that includes Faldo, Trevino, Els, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus) also gives him hope. “It does tend to bring out pretty solid golfers,” he said. “You don’t get many unknowns that win at Muirfield. I like that. And it’s not a course that demands power off the tee. It’s more about precision. Hopefully, that’s good for me.”
Meanwhile, two other Englishmen have remained uncharacteristically under the radar this week. Enter Lee Westwood and Poulter, dangerous lurkers emerging from the shadows into Muirfield’s heatwave.