Justin Rose wants to bank golf’s £8m prize after rising to world No1

John Huggan
Hats off: Justin Rose at the Tour Championship yesterday, where he sits one shot off the lead after the first round: Getty Images

Justin Rose has achieved much in the two decades he has spent playing professional golf.

His CV reads: Olympic champion, US Open champion, multiple tournament winner on both sides of the Atlantic, top of the European Tour money list, four Ryder Cup appearances, during which he has amassed 12 points from a possible 18. And, most recently, a rise to No1 in the world rankings.

But this week the 38-year-old has a new target in mind. With victory in the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Rose will simultaneously lift the FedEx Cup trophy and the biggest monetary prize in golf, a cheque for $10m (£8m).

And Rose got off to a great start in that quest, ending the first round one shot behind leaders Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods at four under.

It’s heady stuff and a far cry from the beginning of Rose’s career in the paid ranks. One day after holing a 70-yard pitch on the 72nd hole of the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and finishing tied for fourth, the lad from Hook in Hampshire turned professional. Four days after that he missed the halfway cut in the Dutch Open, despite shooting 65 in the second round.

It was the start of bad things to come. Not until his 22nd tournament did Rose — an amateur prodigy who first broke 70 at age 11 — finally make the halfway cut in a professional event.

“It was a traumatic start to my pro career,” he admitted in the wake of his US Open victory in 2013. “I announced myself probably before I was ready to handle it. When I was missing 21 cuts in a row, I was just trying to not fade away. I didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder but I believed in myself. Deep down I always knew that I had a talent to play the game. I simply thought that if I put talent and hard work together, surely it would work out in the end.”

And it did. By the end of 2002, Rose was the 39th best golfer in the world, having won four times that year. Five years after that, he broke into the top 10. All of which has been built on an all-round game marked by its consistency. For 16 years, Rose has been one of golf’s 100-best practitioners, his biggest strength is he has no obvious weakness.

Still, it has not all been onwards and upwards for Rose after his near career-ending start. Inevitably, there have been setbacks and disappointments along the way, most notably a play-off loss to Sergio Garcia in the 2017 Masters.

It was a devastating defeat but one that confirmed the strength of character that has been the hallmark of Rose’s professional life. In the immediate aftermath, he tweeted: “Incredible battle. Sport in the moment can be tough. But it’s just sport. Hope you guys enjoyed it.”

Such perspective is one of Rose’s biggest assets and one of the reasons why he is among the most popular members of golf’s elite. Even as Garcia was donning the game’s most famous piece of clothing — the iconic green jacket — he was looking forward rather than back.

Golf's biggest prize: Rose is one off the lead in the race for £8m (EPA)

“This is going to sting for sure,” he admitted. “But you know, I really feel like this is a tournament I can still go on to win. So, while this is one that slipped by, I can’t pick holes in my performance.

“I felt fantastic — cool, calm and collected. I was positive and confident”

Nothing has changed in that respect. Armed with that clarity of mind, Rose’s level of performance is one of the highest in golf. In 17 PGA Tour starts this season, he has won twice and amassed 10 top-10 finishes. Only once has he missed the cut. And he teed-up this week — in an event where he has already accumulated five top 10s — on the back of successive runner-up finishes. He is a legitimate, if tenuous, No1.

“It’s really tight up top,” he points out. “It could easily switch this week. But there’s going to be opportunities to get back there. I’d love to end the year No1. That’s a goal. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. If I finish seventh this week and Brooks [Koepka] finishes sixth, he’ll go to No1. It is that tight.”

Even if he should slip from the top spot over the next few days — Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are also close enough to overtake — Rose will go to Le Golf National as the highest-ranked member of his fifth European Ryder Cup team. The fresh-faced kid from Birkdale long ago became a man.

Tour Championship, from 6.30pm tonight, Sky Sports