By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Justin Rose was a 17-year-old amateur when he made his major championship debut memorable by holing out on the 18th at Royal Birkdale to grab low amateur honors at the 1998 British Open.
The young Englishman so full of promise turned pro a day later, then embarked on what was basically a forgettable stretch of golf that saw him head to q-school three times before winning his inaugural European Tour event in 2002. A five-year drought followed and it was another three before the ex-pat, who now has a home in Orlando, won for the first time on the PGA TOUR.
But Rose, now 32, has certainly come into his own over the last three years, and he enters this week's Masters -- his 36th major -- among the favorites and ranked No. 3 in the world. He's consistent and confident, and Rose would like nothing better than to reap the rewards come Sunday.
"Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don't have the necessary skills to back it up," Rose recalled of his early days. "I think now that I have a lot of trust in my game and I feel like if I put myself in a situation with a chance to win, it's never easy but I feel like I have the tools at my disposal now to enjoy the occasion, and for it not to be overwhelming at least. I don't think that that necessarily makes it any easier, but I know I can do it. ...
"I would say 2010 to this point, I feel like I've emerged from what I would say was a rocky kind of professional career, up and downs. I always had good years, bad years, but I feel like recently I've sort of got into a nice run of form. So I feel like it's a lot more sustainable. I have a good team of people around me to help."
among those on that team is swing coach Sean Foley, the same man world No. 1 Tiger Woods sought out to revamp his swing. Small wonder that Rose, who has four TOUR wins in the last three years -- including a World Golf Championships victory -- feels he is just hitting his prime.
"It was time to put into practice all of the things that I learned and often I've had to learn the hard way," Rose said. "So I felt between 30 and 40, if I could put into place all those years of experience, if you like, hopefully it will end up being a great career."
Rose has finished eighth or better in his last three PGA TOUR starts, including runner-up to Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. He has a solid record at the Masters, too, with two top-10s in seven appearances, including a tie for eighth last year, and he's owned the lead after three different rounds at Augusta National.
"I've played some good rounds of golf, and when you've done that you have some confidence that you can do it again," acknowledged Rose, whose best chance to win probably came in 2007 when he trailed Zach Johnson by one stroke with two holes remaining. "It's all about putting it together and I think a lot of that does come with experience here. You've got to learn how to manage your emotions and the golf course, and then do them all at the same time."
A major championshp would also go a long way toward helping Rose realize another goal in his personal 10-year plan -- moving past Rory McIlroy and Woods to No. 1 in the world.
"Obviously the notion of being the best player in the world is exciting, and when you get as far as No. 3 in the world you want to entertain that," Rose said. "I'm under no illusions that's going to be difficult, but I have eight years of great golf ahead of me. It's a possibility in my career and something I'll be striving to achieve."