Viewing figures for England’s World Cup match against Italy on Saturday will be at least one lower than might be expected if Justin Rose is on course to defend his US Open title this week.
England’s last game in the competition, a 4-1 defeat to Germany in the last 16 in South Africa in 2010, coincided with Rose leading the Travelers Championship by three shots after 54 holes.
But after watching the match in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning, Rose proceeded to shoot a final round of 75 to finish three shots out of a play-off which eventually saw two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson claim his first PGA Tour title.
“It was a big game, an emotional football match and then I never really calmed down,” Rose recalled in his pre-tournament press conference at Pinehurst yesterday.
“I think I watched it about 10 in the morning, we were playing at two o’clock in the afternoon and I ended up going out and losing the golf tournament.”
Rose has a tough task on his hands to defend the title he won at Merion 12 months ago, with former Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange the last man to win back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989.
But there could also be a good omen in the fact that prior to Strange, the legendary Ben Hogan was the last man to do so in 1950 and 1951, with the first of those wins coming at Merion.
“I’ve allowed myself that thought for sure,” said Rose when asked about retaining the title. “Obviously that’s the plan this week. I felt like I had a good opportunity in 2012 at Olympic Club, too. I played really well there. I finished six shots back but as a player sometimes it’s a lot closer than that.
“I feel like the US Open test suits me. For me being defending champion, I don’t even like that word, defending, because it puts you already behind the eight ball. You don’t want to be out there being defensive at all.
“I’m just really excited about the opportunity this week presents. Obviously it is only one guy who has the opportunity to repeat, but I’m seeing that as a pressure-free situation. These tournaments are so hard to win, I’m just going to enjoy the challenge of trying to do that.
“I was the first English guy for 40-odd years (since Tony Jacklin in 1970) to win. That’s something sweet. But also it was my first major championship. That outweighed everything. Any time you win a major championship there’s probably history that’s made in some way or another.
“To win it again, the most important thing is my second major championship, but obviously to go back-to-back when it’s been a while since someone has been able to do that, that would just be the icing on the cake.”
Rose famously turned professional the day after finishing fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in the Open Championship in 1998, but missed his first 21 halfway cuts in succession.
A first European Tour title arrived in 2002 and the 33-year-old has made steady progress ever since, culminating in his emotional victory on Father’s Day last year when he held off Phil Mickelson and Jason Day to win by two shots.
“The last few years of my career have been definitely on an upward trend and winning bigger and bigger tournaments, culminating in winning a major,” added Rose, who pointed to the heavens after holing out on the 72nd hole in memory of his late father Ken.
“I haven’t been one of the guys who have said, ‘Well, I’m going to win X amount of majors in my career’. So I really want to treat this major that I’ve won now as a gift and that gives me the ability to now sort of freewheel for the rest of my career, play free, play loose, just go after it. I’ve got really no pressure on me from that perspective any more.
“I think a lot of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get over the hump in a major championship. Just from an odds standpoint, they’re hard to win. So the fact I have won now, I think that really gives me the ability to have fun doing it again. Hopefully that will give me an advantage down the stretch on future occasions.”
Mickelson will this week try to complete a career grand slam by winning the US Open.
“The expectations of me looking forward to this event, for almost a year now, and how much it would mean to me, makes it a challenge,” Mickelson said yesterday.
Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won all four major titles in their careers, an exclusive club Mickelson has the chance to join by completing the ‘Lefty Slam’.
“It’s a career goal of mine to win all four majors,” Mickelson added.