Justin Rose, complete with his treasured Augusta yardage book which he believes contains the secrets to make it back-to-back wins for England, is heading into the Masters feeling he is “clicking at the right time” to go one better than two years ago.
Certainly, the world No 13 appears in much finer fettle than all the big names who missed the cut at this Shell Houston Open. Rose struggled himself during his one-under 71, which featured three dropped shots around the turn, but, at six-under, his travails were minor in comparison to this extraordinary mass exodus of big names.
Jordan Spieth went out on two-over, as did Patrick Reed, while Adam Scott was only one better. Henrik Stenson, the reigning Open champion, and Lee Westwood will surely both be concerned after crashing out on five-over and, although a dreadful forecast for the weekend here will have soothed their disappointment somewhat, as Rose pointed out, “They’d all rather have played well”.
For his part, after skipping last week’s WGC Matchplay, Rose is simply glad of the preparation time and that, apparently, is all that what these next two rounds will be solely concerned with – preparation.
That is because Sung Kang, the unheralded 29-year-old from Korea, has slipped the field on 16-under after a stunning nine-under 63, which gave him an early six-shot advantage over Americans Russell Henley and Hudson Swafford. “It just wasn’t that easy out there,” Rose said in bemusement.
Rose’s week began with a two-day visit to Augusta in the company of Stenson, as well as Phil Kenyon, the Englishman who is putting coach to both players.
As ever Rose spent a portion of his time scribbling. “Yeah, I’d prefer to lose my passport than my Augusta yardage book – it is that precious,” he said. “I laugh when I look at my one from 2003 and 2004, because it was so basic. Augusta is all about angles and you learn something new every time you play it. I’ve played it over 100 times now and there’s so many tricks you might get from a local caddie, you have to write them down.
“You know those greens are tough to read with the eye. You almost have to putt from memory. I used the AimPoint system in 2015 and drew quadrants in my book so I knew whether a putt breaks three fingers, or two, or one. I went away from that system last year, but I’m going back to it. And that’s where that little book will be invaluable.”
That reversion does seem wise seeing as he finished as runner-up to Spieth two years ago and tied 10th last year. The 36-year-old has enjoyed an impressive rather than startling beginning to the year, with three top-fives in six events and is happy enough to be flying just under the radar as the likes of Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas have sent the beeping machine into overdrive.
”No, I don’t feel 100 per cent with certain things and that is what this weekend will be about,” Rose said. “If I won the US Open [in 2013] by the strength or my driving then the short game is obviously that much more important at Augusta. My chipping needs sharpening up, and maybe my iron play, too, but I’m pleased with my putting, with the claw grip and everything. I do feel I can go into Augusta and click at the right time.
“Danny [Willett] won it for England last year and I see we’ve got a record 11 of us there this year. So we have the strength in numbers and I’m confident I can at least be in the shake-up.”