PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — When you’ve won 10 times — and amassed 42 top-10 finishes in the last five years — you expect to have positive memories to draw upon at almost every PGA Tour stop. Justin Rose certainly enjoys that at the majors — he’s had three second-place finishes in the last few years — but TPC Sawgrass has been much less fertile terrain for the former U.S. Open champion.
Rose will make his 16th consecutive start this week at The Players Championship, where he has recorded just one top-10 finish. That was a tie for fourth five years ago. He has logged just one other top 20. It’s an unusually spartan record for a man who hasn’t been outside the top two slots in the world golf ranking since last summer.
One possible explanation is that TPC Sawgrass — unlike so many venues on Tour — hasn’t offered preferential treatment to the game’s longest hitters, whose ranks include Rose.
“I think that’s the beauty of this golf course is that it suits everybody. It suits all different types of game, which I think is fantastic to have a championship played that suits the whole Tour,” Rose said Tuesday. “If this was a modern style golf course where every carry was 300 and things widened out, it would be frustrating for 40 percent of the field.
“I don’t think any one of the PGA Tour players that are here this week is frustrated by this golf course. I think everybody gets here thinking, I’ve got a good chance to win.”
The roll call of winners at The Players over the last decade supports his thesis: it includes bombers like Tiger Woods and Jason Day but also comparative short-ballers like Matt Kuchar and defending champion Webb Simpson. Pete Dye’s infamously demanding layout has made this the only significant tournament that has frequently given shorter hitters a fighting chance.
“I think the top players in the world these days are the guys who are hitting it generally a lot further than most, so you might run into six, seven, eight nine venues a year where you’re playing against guys who just maybe can’t beat you based on their skill set versus yours,” Rose said. “This golf course allows everybody that chance to win.”
Not everyone is convinced that will remain the case now that The Players has moved back to March after a decade of being played in May, when the course was firmer and permitted lesser mortals on the PGA Tour to get added distance with roll. A combination of hurting winds on key holes and a softer golf course could turn The Players into another long ball cakewalk.
On paper, Rose would seem to match an identikit profile for a winner here. For the last five seasons, the Englishman has ranked in the upper echelon of the Strokes Gained: Tee to Green category — no small matter on a course that prizes ballstriking. Drill deeper into Rose’s statistical performance though and numbers emerge that might explain his lack of success at TPC Sawgrass.
In three of the last five seasons he has failed to break the top 110 in Driving Accuracy, and his early returns this season aren’t encouraging. He is currently tied for 102nd in that category, and tied for 161st in Greens in Regulation.
Rose won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January, but his form since then has been unimpressive. He missed the cut in the controversial Saudi International on the European Tour and on his return stateside at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he slumped to a 77-75 weekend. That T63 finish at Bay Hill was his worst result in a made cut in nearly two years. When the new world ranking was released on Monday, Rose had slipped to No. 2 behind Dustin Johnson.
“Everything was a little off. Didn’t read the greens well, didn’t putt it badly, but just didn’t read the greens well, didn’t see the ball going in, which is not a good start. Few things to work on. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said of his struggles. Some of that, he insisted, owes to a scheduled break.
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“Four weeks off was always going to be not designed to play well necessarily at Bay Hill; it’s designed to kick into effect in a few weeks’ time, hopefully this week,” Rose said. “But the first week out is always a slight, are you going to be rusty or are you going to be fresh, ready to go.
“It was a week I just had to go through, I guess, and sometimes finishing 63rd is a wake-up call too, just gives that you lit tle bit of extra intensity coming into this week to make you realize that the game isn’t easy and you got to put in the work and make sure you tick all the boxes to prepare.”
The reigning FedEx Cup champion will try to improve his record in the Tour’s marquee event beginning at 8:32 a.m. Thursday in the company of Justin Thomas and last year’s runner-up, Xander Schauffele.