Friday 23 August 2019

Rose ready to bloom in Dubai desert

Justin Rose. Photo: AP
Justin Rose. Photo: AP

Ewan Murray

Those who belittle the value of an order of merit chase may need to look away now. The Race to Dubai has never seemed more appropriately named, given the appealing pursuit likely to occur in the Middle East from Thursday.

If Tommy Fleetwood had any doubts regarding whether to play in this weekend's Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, they were forcibly removed by the actions of Justin Rose. Back-to-back successes in China and Turkey moved Rose to within €200,000 of Fleetwood in the order of merit. Sergio García, who sits third, remains part of the equation but the Masters champion would need snookers in the final event of the season, the DP World Tour Championship on Dubai's Earth Course.

García's glory offers a reminder of what Rose has had to recover from. The Spaniard's maiden Major success was widely heralded but Rose, whom he defeated in the Masters play-off, was visibly bruised. Rather than sulk, the 2007 Race to Dubai champion embarked on a late-season surge which has featured a second World Golf Championship win and a rise to sixth in the global rankings.

Rose has an element of unfinished business in Dubai. The DP World Tour Championship itself has eluded him, painfully so in 2012 when a final round of 62 was not sufficient to see off an inspired Rory McIlroy.

"I love Dubai," Rose acknowledges. "I feel like it's a tournament I really want to win. I feel like it's a tournament I have played well in. I feel like it's a tournament I have won, actually, because I remember playing the last hole with a two-shot lead and making a birdie; that was the day I shot 62 playing the last hole and made that birdie. Rory was a few holes behind but very rarely are you two ahead playing the last, make birdie and lose. Rory birdied the last five to beat me that year. So yes, Dubai is a tournament I really want. It's a bucket list event."

Rose is well aware how swiftly his fortunes have turned around. "It would be a B-minus year probably a couple of weeks ago. Good solid year, top 10 in the FedEx Cup, it was good. But no win, you can't really give yourself much more than a B-minus for that.

"Now I'm probably at an A-minus, with one putt at Augusta away from being an A-plus. I've been very consistent this year. I've played a lot of good, solid golf and it just hasn't converted into wins. Now I've checked that box and now it begins to be a pretty good year."

Fleetwood's eye-catching displays came much earlier, showing how a season-long narrative can play out. The Southport man has played considerably more events than Rose in amassing his winnings of more than €4m. He won in Dubai in January, was runner-up in March's World Golf Championship and lifted another trophy at the French Open in July. Relatively speaking, things have tailed off since then but Fleetwood had the birth of his first child as an off-course mitigating factor.

"Hats off to Rosey for the way he's played over the last couple of weeks," Fleetwood says. "Justin is peaking. I had quite a bit of time off sort of late summer because I had other priorities at the time.

"But now I feel fresh. If anything's not right at the moment [with my game] I feel fresh enough that I can put in a couple of extra hours' practice. Normally this time of the year, it's been a long stretch and it's been a long season and people are getting tired. For me, I feel great."

García has regularly displayed an indifferent attitude towards the conclusion to the Race to Dubai, to the point where he has never appeared altogether bothered about winning it. This year, at least, he has the valid explanation of that Augusta triumph and all the associated subsequent time constraints.

"It [the order of merit] is a motivation but it's not going to change my schedule," said García recently. "I'm already playing six tournaments towards the end of the year and I'm not going to go crazy. If it's not enough, I'll congratulate whoever gets it.

"At the end of the day, I know what clicks for me and I don't want to overdo something now towards the end of the year and then feel it throughout next year. I still have to think not only present but future and, you know, we have to control what helps us and hurts us."


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