Justin Rose blooming as British Open awaits

Justin Rose of England plays a shot off Justin Rose of England plays a shot off the 18th tee during a practice round ahead of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Wednesday July 16, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Jon Super

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HOYLAKE, England - To steal a line from the Beatles, who began just across the River Mersey, Justin Rose's career has been a long and winding road.

Twenty-eight miles from Royal Birkdale to the north -- where in the 1998 British Open Rose hit the spotlight before he hit the skids -- to the 2014 Open, which starts Thursday at Royal Liverpool.

Rose comes in as the favorite, for good reason. He won the Scottish Open on Sunday and also won the previous tournament he entered, the Quicken Loans National, two weeks earlier in Bethesda, Maryland.

In between, he and Jack Nicklaus watched the Wimbledon women's final from the Royal Box.

Now that he has a major, the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, the 33-year-old Rose is looked on as sporting royalty, and the thinking as this 143rd British gets underway was he could become the first Englishman to win the event on an English course since Tony Jacklin in 1969.

Rose was a 17-year-old amateur when at Birkdale he hit the shot -- holing a wedge from 50 yards off the 18th green the final day of that '98 Open -- which changed his life. Not necessarily for the better.

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"It was my intention to turn pro the following week no matter what," he told British Airlines magazine. "But I'd intended to do it quietly, get a few tournaments under my belt and get a bit of experience before going to qualifying school."

However that miracle shot hoisted him into fourth place (Mark O'Meara won) and with headlines blaring and agents swirling he turned pro within hours. He missed the cut in his first 21 tournaments, and the elation -- his and his country's -- turned to gloom.

"There was embarrassment, disappointment, despair, lots of emotions through that time," Rose said, "but I never felt defeated. People ask me how I got through it. I actually had to take the Open Championship out of my mind. That was the skewing factor. I looked at my amateur career and that told me I had some talent."

His subsequent pro career, beginning with two wins on the European Tour in 2002, told everyone. He then took Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National in 2010, the BMW Championship in 2011, the U.S. Open in 2013 and two more titles this year.

Rose, spending most of his time on the PGA Tour, is based in Florida, although he keeps a home in London. He understands the significance of the British Open for a Brit.

"I've tried to see it as my 'home major' before, but I am not paying attention to that now," Rose said. "A major is a major. If Tiger is playing the U.S. Open he doesn't think, 'This is my home major,' it's just another major championship. From that perspective I am just trying to deflect any extra pressure."

There is a great deal, as on any British team or athlete in a country where the newspapers see every contest as between "us" and "them."

The soccer team's early exit from the World Cup, Andy Murray's relatively early exit from Wimbledon and defending champ Chris Froome's early exit from the Tour de France because of a crash have put the emphasis on Rose and the Open. Swing away.

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