Justin Rose believes he has validated his decision to turn down the chance to join his European Ryder Cup peers in jumping ship to the LIV Golf League with a first win in four years that puts him in firm contention to make September’s team in Rome.
The 42-year-old reminded everyone of his enduring quality – particularly Europe captain Luke Donald – with an ultra clinical victory on the PGA Tour at Pebble Beach on Monday that has taken the former No1 back into the world’s top 40.
It is a comeback that seems so well-timed with the five-day legal hearing between the DP World Tour and the rebels who joined the Saudi-funded circuit also beginning in London.
Out of his generation of blue-and-gold heroes – including Lee Weestwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Sergio García – Rose is the only one who rejected the huge eight-figured signing-on fees in order to continue his ambition to add to the 2013 US Open title, as well as the gold at the 2016 Olympics.
“Access to the major championships was a large part of my decision,” Rose said after his three-shot triumph made him the first European to win the 86-year-old AT&T Pro-Am.
“Obviously playing in events like this that have a great history, that give access to an iconic course, that really counts… winning events that matter. But first and foremost it’s playing in majors. I have won one, but that’s where my childhood dreams lay and that’s what is really, really important to me going forward.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 6, 2023
After facing the prospect of missing his first Masters in 17 years, he has now qualified for the Augusta major. If Rose, at the very least, consolidates his position in the rankings, it is hard to envisage Donald not picking him as one of his six wildcards.
“Every great team needs a blend,” Rose said. “The most important part for the European team is going to be the youngsters that come through. Because you need the firepower, you need the talent, you need the guys who aren’t scared. But you also need guys to be able to glue a couple of pieces of the team together.”
Rose highlighted to Donald that as well as the game, he retains the competitive psyche. On the weather-delayed finale at the revered Californian layout on the Monterey Peninsula, Rose shrugged off a debilitating spell of injuries and coaching and equipment upheaval to lift his 11th title on the US circuit (a record by an Englishman).
Certainly, Donald will be delighted. Last month in Dubai he told Telegraph Sport: “There has been a lot of talk about Francesco [Molinari] returning to form and as an Italian with his Ryder Cup record, I’d love him to be playing well enough to be there. But he’s not the only with experience who could benefit the team.
“Look at Justin. He was world No 1 not so long ago, is a proven winner and a great Ryder Cup competitor. I would not be at all surprised to see Justin back up there soon.
A prophetic statement by the astute captain. After hinting at a resurgence in the first weeks of 2023, Rose produced a remarkable display in a tournament so blighted by the Pacific winds that balls were moving around on the course.
Rose, who turned pro after finishing fourth in the Open as a 17-year-old and then missed his first 22 cuts in the paid ranks, has never been anything less than resilient, and resumed with a two-shot advantage in the fifth morning with clinical intent.
He holed a 30-footer on his 11th (his second hole of the day) and then converted a 20-footer on the 13th before another birdie on the 14th allowed him to coast in with four pars to post a 66 for an 18-under total to prevail by three strokes over American Brandun Wu and Brendon Todd. The cheque for £1.37 million was only one reward in a triumph packed with bonuses.
“This reopens so many doors for me and it is a relief,” he said. “Four years? Time flies by, doesn’t it? It’s amazing how long it has been. I was having my breakfast this morning and saw a stat come up on Golf Channel – 86 starts since my last win and so many missed cuts. And I was like: ‘Hmm, that’s not great reading.’ Let’s fix that.”