Open Championship 2014: Justin Rose's Hoylake hopes boosted
Justin Rose was an outsider looking in the last time the Open was played at Hoylake.
Given the Englishman's current standing, it's hard to believe his form back in 2006 wasn't good enough to earn him a place in golf's oldest major.
But the contrast couldn't be greater as he heads to the Royal Liverpool course for the 143rd Open Championship which starts on 17 July. Rose will arrive as a player renowned for having precisely the qualities to cope with the game's most difficult courses.
His victory in last year's US Open at Merion provided compelling evidence to that effect and now he's added the prestigious National title where the winning score was a mere four strokes better than par.
The Congressional course played like the kind of test you associate with America's national championship. Certainly it provided a much more complete examination than the rain-softened layout that Rory McIlroy conquered when he won the US Open there in 2011.
"The rough was definitely thick and maybe it played a little tighter because the fairways are firm. But it was all about the greens," Rose observed after his play-off victory over Shawn Stefani.
"The greens got firm and I was really pleased to see the PGA Tour set it up tough. The course got bouncy, got fiery. It became a championship-style golf course."
The fact that the next major is at Hoylake provides a timely reminder of how far Rose has travelled as a golfer.
When Tiger Woods was plotting his way to a third Open title in 2006, the Englishman was wondering when his own career would be taking off. He was still bedding in on the PGA Tour and wasn't earning enough to force his way into the majors.
Justin Rose factfile
- Born 30 July 1980 in Johannesburg - family moved to England when Rose was five
- Tied for fourth as an amateur in 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale
- Turned professional the following day
- Nine PGA & European Tour wins
- Tied fifth in 2003 US Open; equal fifth in 2007 Masters; tied third in 2012 US PGA
- Member of the European Ryder Cup team in 2008 & 2012
- Won 2013 US Open at Merion - first English winner in 43 years
- June 2014: Won the Quicken Loans National at Congressional, beating Shawn Stefani in a play-off
"That was sort of a remotivating period in my life when I was out on the sidelines missing these majors," Rose admitted. "I just remember it being burnt out, really warm, people eating ice cream and Tiger winning."
Within a year Rose was a global player earning on both sides of the Atlantic. He did enough to win the European Tour's Order of Merit and, in so doing, was finally starting to fulfil immense potential.
The man who finished tied for fourth at the 1998 Open as a 17-year-old amateur was building a game that could withstand most of the challenges golf can present.
He has won on both main tours, at World Golf Championships and major level. Now, as a 33-year-old at the height of his powers, he has at least one victory in each of his last four seasons on the PGA Tour.
What is most striking is Rose's ability to hole crucial putts at the right time. He single-putted the 71st and 72nd greens to make the play-off at Congressional.
We also remember the putts he made down the stretch to secure his vital singles win over Phil Mickelson at the last Ryder Cup. Sunday's victory goes a long way to guaranteeing his spot on the European team for Gleneagles in September.
And that removes a potentially worrying distraction as we head towards the final two majors of the year. Rose admits this, his sixth PGA Tour win, provides a massive injection of confidence to take to the Open.
"It's a big boost and it has not been lost on me that I had not won for over a year. Obviously the clock passed a year at the US Open, so it was nice to get on the right side of that very quickly.
"And it's a huge boost confidence-wise, for sure, because I've been semi in contention this year, had some fourths and fifths but I've sort of forced my way into fourth or fifth place. I haven't really been playing with a lead all year.
"To get it done and make key putts - that's huge for my psyche going into a major championship," he said.
The weekend's good news wasn't the exclusive domain of Rose. The Ladies European Tour also received a significant boost with Florentyna Parker's thrilling win at the Italian Open.
The 25-year-old made an albatross at the par five 14th en route to securing a one-shot win over Holly Clyburn, with compatriot Rebecca Hudson completing an all-English one-two-three.
It sets everything up perfectly for a festival of women's golf in this country over the next fortnight. This week it is the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters taking place at the Buckinghamshire, followed by the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale.
All the indicators, from both the men's and and women's games, suggest home fans will have plenty to cheer in the coming weeks.