Justin Rose had nine holes with Sir Nick Faldo on Wednesdaymorning, the ghost of Muirfield past and the bloke who is aiming to become the first Englishman to win an Open since Faldo in 1992.
Twenty-one years is a long wait but Rose left town with the US Open trophy under his arm last month, the first Englishman to do so since Tony Jacklin of Potters Bar managed it at Hazeltine in 1970, and the 32-year-old from Hampshire is delighted to be getting a shot at winning a second major while the going is still so good.
"As a British player, the Open is the event you look forward to more than any other. And coming here off the back of my first major makes it special. I've had three weeks off and the idea was just basically to get my legs back under me, getting back to 100% ready to play again," Rose said. "I'm going to need that time if I'm going to get back into contention and have a chance on Sunday."
Rose has been this way before and although his best Open finish remains that joint-fourth as an unknown amateur in 1998, he was lying third after the third round at Muirfield in 2002 before promptly fizzling out, and he had a good chance at Turnberry seven years later only for a poor day with the putter to leave him four shots off the play-off. "Given a similar sort of situation this year, that's one I'd relish," he said. "I have put myself in some better positions than my results say.
"I had a friendly nine holes with Nick," he added of the six-times major winner. "I asked him a couple of questions, just curious about his US Open record and career and we talked about that a little bit."
Second after a play-off with Curtis Strange in 1988 was the answer he got to the US Open question, and although Faldo is here primarily as a broadcaster while enjoying a flypast at the site of two of his three Open wins, Rose reports that Faldo, 56 on Thursday, is hitting the ball well and spoke positively about playing more golf. "Nick drove well and hit it solid. He also said he's pretty happy with the putting – he's got a new method where he feels he can step and make a stroke. He is seeing how this week goes and it was just good to be out with him."
While a unique treble of Muirfield Open wins is surely out of the question, Faldo will tee off in company with his fellow veterans Tom Watson and Fred Couples at 9am on Thursday while Rose is in the three-ball behind them along with the defending champion Ernie Els and last year's 36-hole leader, Brandt Snedeker. Rose's old friend and near neighbour Ian Poulter is in the group behind that, with Keegan Bradley and Billy Horschel of the US.
Poulter, second behind Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale in 2008, has been keeping a low profile as the Englishmen wonder which of their callings will be next, while Lee Westwood, second at St Andrews in 2010, tees off at 2.01pm in the group ahead of Luke Donald, whose best finish was fifth in 2009 and 2012. David Lynn, second at last year's US PGA, goes at 8.33am and Chris Wood, who got his maiden European Tour victory this season and has finished fifth and third in recent times, is off at 7.16am.
Rose, however, is the 22-1 third favourite and the Englishman jokingly admitted he has another motive for success this week. "At the Open you get the trophy with your name engraved on it at the prize ceremony," he said. "With the US Open you get it done yourself. So I'm hoping to get a discount for bulk."
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