Race to Dubai must come through Hong Kong for jet-setter Rose

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Justin Rose lives just a few doors down from bosom buddy Ian Poulter, the defending UBS Hong Kong Open champion. But despite being close friends and neighbours, Rose has been unable to crack open Poulter's secrets of how to win at Fanling, a course he will be playing for the first time in December.

'I am sure he will keep the local knowledge to himself, but I will do my best to scout it out,' laughs Rose when asked if Poulter had given him any tips on how to handle the Hong Kong Golf Club composite course, the venue of the 53rd Hong Kong Open.

England's Rose has visited Hong Kong before- in 2007, he and wife Kate stopped over for a couple of days and stayed at the Peninsula where he still remembers having the famous high tea - but he will be playing for the first time in Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event.

It is an important stopover for Rose, who is eyeing a berth in the top 60 on the European Tour's Order of Merit- the Race to Dubai- in order to be eligible to play at the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

The UBS Hong Kong Open offers prize money of US$2.75 million with the winner getting US$458,330. It will be more than enough to propel Rose into the top 60. He has four tournaments left on the European Tour this year, and the Hong Kong Open, jointly sanctioned with the Asian Tour, offers him one of the best chances to accomplish his target.

'My goal for sure is to get to Dubai. I haven't played in Hong Kong before but Ian speaks highly of the course,' Rose said from his home in Orlando, Florida.

'I know it is a course that has a pretty good history to it. I have some pretty good images of it from what I've seen on TV, the 18th hole crossing the water. The tournament has been running for a long time and seems to be getting better and better every year, so I am excited to be coming down to play.'

The globe-trotting Rose is one of a few players juggling commitments on both the US PGA Tour and the European Tour. He finished his PGA Tour season with a bang when he won a wire-to-wire victory at the BMW Championship last month to move into 17th on the money list with earnings of US$3,401,402. It has not been as lucrative on the European Tour where, from nine starts, Rose has only scraped together US$350,000. Hence his determination to put it right.

'This is my second year on both tours and I'm trying my hardest to keep these commitments going on both sides of the Atlantic,' the 31-year-old said. 'I live pretty much full-time in America but playing Ryder Cup and being on the European Tour is still very important for me, as is trying to find a schedule that works for me, the golf and my family.'

He has had to make sacrifices, especially when he is on the road in Europe. It is better in the US when Kate and his 2 1/2-year-old son, Leo, travel with him.

'The PGA Tour does a great job with the day-care facilities they provide. My little boy wakes up in the morning and is excited to see his friends at school, so it works out very well.

'But to drag a young family on the road to far off places, different cultures, time zones and food is not very practical. So I don't think I will see much of the family in the next six to eight weeks, but at the same time I do love to travel. It's great to see different parts of the world and I have always enjoyed that.'

It will be twice as much fun this time as Poulter will be accompanying him most of the way. The pair are pencilled in to play at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai early next month, then represent England at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in Hainan the week before coming for the Hong Kong Open.

'Ian and I live on the same street and go way back when we used to room together on the Challenge Tour. Our two caddies are also best friends. Whenever we play a practice round it is just cackles of laughter. People on the course watching us don't know what the heck is going on as we are messing around and playing practical jokes on each other.

'Representing England at the World Cup will be good and then to carry it on to Hong Kong will be a lot of fun,' said Rose, who is ranked 17th in the world.

Rose bloomed young, when as a 17-year-old and still an amateur he tied for fourth place at the 1998 British Open. It placed unreasonable demands on his young shoulders when he decided to turn professional. 'It was like a fairy tale with the crowd getting behind me. They were rooting for the underdog and wanted to see this young lad, the amateur, do well. It was the best week in my golfing life but in other ways it made my job of turning pro much harder.

'The expectations went through the roof and I probably wasn't quite ready for what followed. I had made the decision to turn pro prior to the Open no matter what happened but I played well and it was a great opportunity, providing me with a lot of invites to tournaments. But I think it turned my world upside down as well.

'It was the time of my life and now, having enjoyed some success as a pro, I can look back and enjoy it. The media expectations were crazy. I would turn up at home and there would be news stations with huge trucks parked outside with reporters roaming the streets interviewing every man who wanted to give their opinion. It was pretty intense and that kind of unsettled me going forward.' Rose has won three titles on the US PGA Tour and is a four-time winner on the European Tour, but a major has still proved elusive. The closest he came after his amateur heroics being in 2007, when he was in contention going into the last nine holes at the Masters.

'I was one behind with two holes to play in the year Zach Johnson won. I had played myself into contention and it was an amazing feeling. Everyone talks about the atmosphere on the back nine on a Sunday in Augusta and I definitely sensed it. There was a moment when I was standing on the 17th tee, when I was like, 'Wow this is so much fun'. It kind of ended there... I made a mistake and Zach made a birdie. I ended up two or three shots behind and tied for fifth. But I definitely had a chance of winning that tournament and that was a great feeling.

'Next year I am going to prepare harder and have a great off-season and try to sharpen my game even more. The three wins I have had on the PGA Tour have been on tough courses and this has given me the confidence that I can go ahead and win a major.

'Winning the BMW Championship wire-to-wire makes you more comfortable playing with the lead and playing under pressure. I think I am maturing every year and that is ultimately what helps you to win a major, just being able to deal with the pressure.'

But this December, he will have another goal- take home a nice Christmas present to Kate, who is expecting their second child, a daughter, on Christmas Day. And what better present than the Hong Kong Open title- that would also open the door to the lucrative World Championship in Dubai.

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Top-10 finishes for Justin Rose in 31 major appearances