AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Justin Rose has been atop the leaderboard at the Masters after every round except the one that matters.
He is making his 14th appearance, so he has the experience.
He has been runner-up twice, most recently in a playoff that would have been more crushing if not for seeing close friend Sergio Garcia celebrate his first major.
The next step is a green jacket.
Still to be determined is whether it’s a baby step or a giant leap.
“Guys talk about a course that fits their eye,” Rose said Monday. “And I think this is one for me that I like all the shots out there.”
Monday was the first full day of practice for the Masters, and the course was particularly full in the morning because of thunderstorms that arrived and led Augusta National to close the course about 3 p.m.
Tiger Woods arrived late Sunday afternoon and played nine holes in solitude, and then another nine Monday morning with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas. Rory McIlroy played with Dustin Johnson, two of the top betting favorites.
Woods and Couples share more than the distinction of a green jacket. They are among three players who have won the Masters while No. 1 in the world since the ranking began in 1986. The other player was Ian Woosnam in 1991. Woods last won the Masters as the No. 1 player in 2002, the year before Rose played Augusta for the first time.
For Rose, the ranking is just a number.
This is the fifth time since September he has risen to No. 1, and the last three times he got there, he didn’t even play the week before.
“I think the weeks that I am No. 1, it’s really cool,” Rose said. “I feel like I haven’t had my run yet where I’ve sort of separated myself as the No. 1 player in the world. That’s a goal of mine still. No one’s really been that dominant right now. If think if anyone has been dominant, it’s been Rory in the last couple of months. … The ranking, it’s bounced around a lot.”
Golf is so crowded at the top that five players — Rose, Johnson, McIlroy, Thomas and Brooks Koepka — could leave the Masters at No. 1.
That’s one reason this Masters is regarded as even more wide open than in recent years. That typically is the case, anyway, because of the short field — 87 players, nearly half the size as the other three majors — that includes six past champions at 50 or older and six amateurs.
Rose simply wants to cross the line.
He made the cut on the number in his debut in 2003, which he thought was a good start considering the experience Augusta National so often requires. The following year, he opened with rounds of 67 and 71 to lead after each of the opening two rounds.
“And then shot 81 on the third day, which was obviously disappointing, but just really taught me a lot about this golf course,” Rose said. “Gave me such great valuable experience and insights into how to play it, how not to play it and how it can kind of trick you and bully you a little bit at times.”
He was a distant runner-up to Jordan Spieth in 2015, and the real crusher was the playoff against Garcia in 2017. Rose had the lead with two holes to play until missing a par putt on the 17th, and then getting into trouble off the tee on the 18th in the playoff to lose.
It stung the next day.
It hurt even more later in the year when something would trigger a memory of the day he nearly won the green jacket. Close calls at the Masters guarantee nothing, as Tom Weiskopf (four runner-up finishes) and Greg Norman can attest.
But it was a chat with Henrik Stenson, whom Rose beat in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic gold medal in 2016, that gave him perspective. Rose had a couple of shots in Rio that hopped out of a bush, and those good breaks cost Stenson that day.
“Henrik pointing that out to me made it easier to accept and swallow, that I’ve had my moments where I’ve ridden my luck and this was one that maybe just kind of went against me,” Rose said. “But you’ve got to keep putting yourself in those positions.”
Rose will be back with his longtime caddie, Mark “Fooch” Fulcher, who had surgery in January to repair the mitral valve in his heart. Fulcher was at the Match Play two weeks ago, caddying nine holes a day of practice and walking outside the ropes during Rose’s four matches. He was climbing hills on Monday during the practice round.
Rose had been using Gareth Lord, the former caddie of Stenson.
“Fooch said to Lordy, ‘You’ve got one job — just give him back to me as world No. 1.’ The fact that the ranking switched this week was a nice touch,” Rose said.
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