CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was a shock, frankly. Justin Rose was No. 1 in the world and had a recent track record that led many to believe that he would be one of the clear favorites when the Masters commenced in the second week of April.
Rose tied for second at Augusta National in 2015, four strokes behind Jordan Spieth, and lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia in 2017. This season, Rose won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and tied for eighth at the Players Championship two months later.
Yet, inexplicably, he shot 75-73 around Augusta National and missed the cut by one. If no one else saw anything like this coming, Rose himself had a clue or two.
“I think I got my preparation a bit wrong, I guess, going into Augusta, is what it felt like,” said Rose, who will start the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday (tee times). “I took a month off in February, and that was designed to really freshen me up going into Augusta and for the rest of the season. I kind of came out of that month not playing as well as I would have hoped, and the Florida Swing became a bit of a struggle and a bit of a grind.
“Even though I had a top-10 at the Players and then through the Match Play, I was always just sort of fighting my game a little bit, and then it’s like you’re sort of cramming for an exam. I started to practice harder than I would have liked in the days leading up to Augusta.”
Rose is at the Wells Fargo, ostensibly to win but practically, he’s here to prepare for the PGA Championship in two weeks at Bethpage Black. He likes to have a week off before a major championship, but as the result of his struggles at the Masters, he has decided to make some changes to the kind of preparation for the majors that he intended at the beginning of the year.
“I was looking at the majors this year in 10-day blocks,” Rose said. “I was going to go and try to do my preparation on the weekend, take sort of a Monday off and then get into the week. But I felt that’s not really how I’ve done it in the past, but it was almost because of the location and because of the way just everything fit together. I just felt like that was the best way for me to do it.
“But I am going to switch that up. I’ll probably do my preparation for next week much earlier than the weekend and go back home and digest what I’ve learned or what I think the strategy is going to be and come back and be fresh mentally. I feel like if I’m in the environment for too long… It’s a long time to keep it together or to stay sharp.”
Touring pros get only four cracks at these things every year, and they have to make each one count. Now, the major season is so compressed – one every month, from April through July because of the PGA’s move to May – that there’s no time to breathe. When one is done, it’s seems as if there are only 20 minutes or so until the next one. And the whole thing will be over before you know it.
Rose has one major championship on his resume, the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. By all accounts, he is talented enough and sufficiently mentally tough that one major would be considered underperforming. When asked at the Masters how many majors he would think would be appropriate for him, he answered, “Four.”
However, Rose will be 39 in July, and he’s bound to hear the clock ticking. Every year he goes without that second major, the odds start stacking higher against him. While it’s true that Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters at age 43, the stated probability that a 43-year-old could win the Masters was 3 percent.
These next three months will be critical to Rose, not only for his year but his career. Bethpage Black would be considered right in his wheelhouse. It’s long and hard, and Rose has the physical tools to take on the course. As of Tuesday, he was 20-1 odds to win the PGA, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Woods, at 8-1, was the favorite, with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka listed at 12-1.
Still, Rose has plenty of experience dealing with long odds. He started his professional career in 1998 at age 17, the day after he tied for fourth in the British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, and missed his first 21 cuts as a professional. “I don’t know how you come back from starting at the bottom,” he said, “but I did.”
His Olympic gold medal aside, Rose – like every other top-ranked golfer – will be judged by his record in the major championships. It’s the modern yardstick, and there’s no avoiding it. If Rose is going to raise his profile sufficiently, winning the PGA Championship has to be the place to start.
It wouldn’t be a shock, not even a little.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf