Justin Rose is a quiet, subdued, polite and deliberate individual. He pauses a bit before he answers a question, and that is probably because he is weighing and thinking about the answer.
Rose isn’t flashy — no neon orange on the final day like Rickie Fowler, no outrageous answers to questions, just that pause and then a straight-shooting answer after that.
He freely admitted to the nerves, pressure and emotions he went through in winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship a year ago at Doral.
“It’s easier said than done, for sure,” he said of winning a golf tournament. “It’s like the swan. They look nice and pretty and calm on top of the water, but underneath they are paddling pretty hard.”
However, in golf, a little bit of nervousness can sometimes be just enough.
A year ago, Rose and Bubba Watson were playing partners for the first three rounds at Doral.
“There was a moment in the third round when I thought, ‘How am I ever going to beat this guy this week?’ ” Rose said in reference to Watson’s quick-paced, free-flowing, take-a-swing-at-it-and-see-what-happens play.
“Bubba was driving so long and so straight,” Rose said. “He was hitting sand wedge into every hole, and he was playing unbelievable. He looked unbeatable, but obviously patience worked out for me.”
Most people believe Watson, after an incredible second shot out of the rough on the 18th hole, lost in last year’s Doral when he missed a 10-foot putt on the final hole that would have sent the event into a playoff.
Rose, 32, sees it another way.
Rose thinks he is entering this year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral that starts Thursday as the defending champion because of what happened earlier in the round, not what happened on No.18.
On the fourth hole, a par-3, Rose drained a 30-foot putt for birdie. Almost as important, Rose — who started the day three strokes behind — said he was “aware Bubba got off to a slow start.” He was aware of that because the third and fourth holes are very visible to each other. Then, to make matters even better for Rose, after plugging his shot in the front bunker on No. 5, he made the difficult sand save to get a par. Momentum was switching and Rose was riding it.
Last year’s victory at Doral is just part of Rose’s journey.
Born in South Africa, Rose moved to England at age 5.
“My parents weren’t sure which way South Africa was going to go at that point,” he said. “They felt like it was going to be a bit safer and a more reliable upbringing for me and my sister to make the move.”
England has become his home, and he was an essential part of last year’s Ryder Cup rally by the European team.
“England certainly feels like home,” he said, although he spends much of his time at his home in Orlando. But he affirms, “Overall, I do have a pride representing England.”
That pride was never more evident than in last year’s Ryder Cup as he played an essential role by beating Phil Mickelson on the final day. That match was the key to the huge comeback by the Europeans. On the 17th hole against Mickelson, Rose somehow sank a big-breaking, 50-foot putt and then closed out the match on the 18th by making a 12-footer.
What did Rose take away from his success on that day?
It might surprise you.
Certainly, he enjoyed making those putts and celebrating the improbable European victory, but he was also in awe of Mickelson’s reaction.
“It’s imperative that inside the ropes the players honor the tradition of the game in terms of sportsmanship and fair play,” Rose said. “And there’s no one better at doing that than Phil Mickelson.
“When I watched the tape of my match with him and how appreciative he was of my ability to hit those shots down the stretch, it was amazing,” Rose said. “He tried his hardest, absolutely. He wanted to win that game as much as I did. I saw him applauding my play, and he was not cheering for me in any way.
“He was just appreciative. He was shaking his head, ‘Oh, my goodness, what do I have to do here?’
“He is a true sportsman.”
Rose and Mickelson are both entered at this week’s Doral, and maybe they will talk about that showdown at Medinah — then again, maybe Mickelson might want to ignore that subject.
Not all of Rose’s golf life has been Ryder Cup and WGC-Cadillac championships. There have been difficult times.
In his first 21 tour starts, Rose did not make the cut.
“I don’t really remember much about that part of my career,” he said. “It was clearly a tough period that I think I blot out.”
One thing Rose will always remember, and cherish, is the scene after winning last year’s Doral.
His son Leo, 3 at the time, was intent on helping Dad celebrate.
“He’s a little firecracker,” Rose said with a grin. “He was running round like the crazy kid he is. He was in the bunker on 18 during the prize ceremony, and he was interrupting my press conference. Typical boy. It was great.”
Then Rose put his priorities in perspective, and it’s not just hitting a small ball a long way.
“I want to be a good dad and husband,” he said. “That’s what is really important.”