By Kent Gray
He’s entered the home straight in this intriguing Race to Dubai as the form Saluki (think Persian Greyhound), is refreshed after a week off at home in the Bahamas and crucially knows how to run down the hare on the line and claim the European Tour’s crown jewel.
Sure, the hare, aka Tommy Fleetwood, has a decent head start – 256,737 points to be exact – with just 72 holes of the season long order-of-merit race remaining, but Justin Rose, the fast-finishing hound, is definitely ready for dash to the line at the 9th DP World Tour Championship.
“All I wanted to come in here thinking was that if I win, I didn’t want to be too far behind Tommy; that if he finished second, I still couldn’t win,” said the 37-year-old who will tee it up with fellow Englishman Fleetwood in the final pairing of Thursday’s first round on Earth at 12.40pm.
“So in some ways controlling my destiny from that point of view is important to me.”
Rose must finish at least solo fifth to win the Race to Dubai providing Fleetwood finishes lower than him and Sergio Garcia, the only other runner in the OOM race, doesn’t win. If Fleetwood doesn’t win, solo second will also be good enough for Rose.
“I like the fact that I don’t have to think about anybody else. Maybe Tommy does; there’s more scenarios in play that way, whereas for me I think I can just focus on playing good golf and get to the top of the leaderboard. That’s as simple as I’m trying to keep it this week,” said Rose.
The former US Open and reigning Olympic Games champion was in a similar situation at the end of the 2007 season when trailed Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington in the OOM standings heading in the decisive Volvo Masters before edging Simon Dyson and Soren Kjeldsen in a play-off at Valderrama to claim the moneylist title.
“Yeah, it’s actually a very similar situation. I think mathematically, Valderrama in 2007, I could have maybe finished second or third, but went ahead and won the tournament. It’s probably something fairly similar this week.
“But end of the day, for me it’s about — to win The Race to Dubai, I have to contend in this tournament one way or another. I need to finish towards the top end of the leaderboard, and if you’re going to finish at the top end of the leaderboard, you may as well focus on trying to win the tournament.
“The objective it quite simple and quite clear from that point of view. But like I said, it’s Wednesday; it’s too early to think about winning. Thursday is too early to think about winning. Friday is too early to think about winning. So it’s just about putting myself in position, and then getting it done when you have that chance.”
Rose has been pretty good at getting it done lately, winning back-to-back titles in Shanghai and Turkey, the former a WGC title, the latter one of the big point Rolex Series events. He’s also gone close twice before at Jumeirah Golf Estates, most famously when he closed with a 62 on Earth in 2012 only for Rory McIlroy to birdie last five holes and win by two strokes.
“[Earth is] really one of my favourite places to play golf. I enjoy it here. Great way to end the season. Pretty much guaranteed good weather. Course is always in good shape here.
“So there’s no excuses almost. And it’s a golf course that let’s you play; let’s you play aggressively. It’s quite — it’s a fun course to play, really, and I think it rewards good iron play. Probably that’s been a fairly strong part of my game of late but hopefully keep it going.”
While Fleetwood expended much mental energy battling to a top-10 at Sun City last week, Rose spent his week off doing what he described as a “Warrent of Fitness” check with his swing coach Sean Foley and mental coach Jason Goldsmith.
“Did what I wanted to do, spent time with the family. Did some practise. Saw my coach. Yeah, ticked all the boxes that I wanted to last week, and I’ve arrived here in Dubai, fresh, ready to go, excited.
“Those are the main ingredients, really, for playing well. You can never force a good week. You can never guarantee a good week, but the recipe is in place to continue doing what I’ve done the last few weeks.”
The 2007 OOM title remains one of Rose’s “biggest achievements”.
“Any time you beat world-class players over the course of a year, it means often a lot more than it does winning in a week.
“For my name to go on a trophy that was dominated by Europe’s greatest; when I look at that, obviously Faldo and Seve and Lyle and Woosie, and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty and Monty, (laughter) and then to see my name go alongside Ernie Els and Retief and guys like that, it’s a list that’s certainly very, very impressive.
And when I won it, it was, okay, wow, kind of felt to me at the time, looking back, it was as if my potential as a kid, the Birkdale boy, it was kind of like — I felt like I had really achieved something to justify some of that early hype by winning the Order of Merit back then.
So what if you get pipped at the post by Fleetwood or even Garcia.
“I would say so be it. I think I’ve given it a great run here towards the end. I think that I would focus upon next year already. I would focus upon playing even better in the majors, WGC events, and The European Tour events and the Rolex Series Tour events that I choose to play and see if I can get it done another year.
“I feel like there will be competitive years in the future. Yeah, it would be disappointing, of course, because it would come down to one shot, and there will be one shot this week that I’ll look back on and go, oh, could of, should of, would of, done better there.
“I’ve had tough losses in the past, and you absorb it and you move on. It’s part of golf. I won’t second guess anything. Certainly won’t second-guess my schedule. It’s just the way it is.”