After years of toil, Rose takes a title

DUBLIN, Ohio -- In golf terms, he is still very young, months away from his 30th birthday, a global golfer whose future should be filled with the kind of trophy presentations he was part of on Sunday.

But Justin Rose has seemingly been around forever, despite what his birth certificate says.

His first victory on the PGA Tour did not come without its share of angst and agony, and serves as a cautionary reminder to those who were left in his wake at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Much of the chatter this week was about the slew of youngsters who seemingly found themselves in contention.

More than a handful of 20-somethings had a chance to hoist the Memorial trophy and get a pat on the back from tournament founder and legend Jack Nicklaus. Rose's three-shot victory over Rickie Fowler -- who is 21 and for a time looked like a sure thing to win -- made it 10 wins for the under-30 set this year on the PGA Tour.

Rose quipped that he was glad to make it into the category just in time, his 30th birthday looming.

"I have always been described as a young gun, but now I'm certainly not," said Rose, a pro for 12 years who came from four shots back Sunday by shooting a 6-under-par 66. "Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, these guys are the true young guys out here. I think golf's in great hands, with more than those two, but with those two especially."

Rose, of course, knows firsthand just how difficult it is to live with expectations and turn them into something more than disappointment.

He shocked the golf world when he contended at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, the one where Mark O'Meara won in a playoff and where a 22-year-old named Tiger Woods finished a shot back.

Rose was a 17-year-old amateur, a British lad who wowed the locals when he holed a pitch shot on the final hole for a birdie that gave him a fourth-place finish. Awash in adulation, Rose turned pro within days to embark on the pay-for-play game -- only to miss 22 consecutive cuts.

Yep, that's right: Rose turned pro and didn't cash a check for nearly a season's worth of tournaments, finally making a cut at the Austrian Open in June of 1999, where he finished fourth.

"Quite honestly, I think the Open Championship, finishing fourth there skewed things for me in terms of my expectations and certainly everybody else's expectations," Rose said.

"What I tried to do at the time is say, Justin, forget the Open ever happened. You had a great amateur career. You can obviously play the game. Now if you couple that with hard work, surely things have to pay off."

There have been four European Tour victories since, (along with two other international victories) a European Order of Merit (money title) capped by a win at the 2007 Volvo Masters, and a career best No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking that year.

And yet he had dropped to 66th in the world heading into the Memorial, which is fine except for the fact his countrymen have been making such a name for themselves. Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Luke Donald all reside in the top 10.

"I think I'm very much a forgotten man right now in English golf," Rose said. "Another reason why I'm here today is I haven't let it bother me, either. I've played for myself. ... Not worry about what other people think, not worry about what other people's opinions are of me and just really focus on the game and love the game. When you get into that mindset, everything else does tend to disappear.

"I think there's four guys [from England] in the top 10 in the world. So it really is strong right now. Certainly, I feel today I'm a better golfer than I was at No. 6 in the world. So I think sometimes standings can be misleading to a certain extent."

Rose referenced the ups and downs in his career along with the resiliency that has been necessary to survive. He's been a member of the PGA Tour since 2004, and not winning on U.S. soil was bothersome.

The victory at the end of the 2007 season might have pushed him to further greatness, but instead he failed to win again until Sunday, which prompted his friend, Poulter, to note that it was a long time coming.

"Good boy Rosey, great win about time, look forward to having a glass of bubbly with you," Poulter posted on his Twitter account.

No doubt, the victory will be popular, as Rose is a good guy and well-liked, a member of the 2008 European Ryder Cup team who won three of a possible four points at Valhalla.

But since then, he's done little, some due to the birth of his son, Leo, in February 2009. Rose failed to qualify for this year's Masters and will have to endure 36-hole qualifying Monday to make the U.S. Open field. He's also not in the Open Championship field next month, although his victory at the Memorial gives him a good head start in a six-tournament money list that offers the top two not otherwise exempt a spot in the field at St. Andrews.

If anyone can relate to the disappointment Fowler feels today, it is Rose, who can show the scars from which to learn. Fowler has had a nice start to his career, losing in a playoff last year, making it through Q-school, holding the lead for most of four days here.

"I'm pleased with how comfortable I felt this week," Fowler said.

But he hit a tee shot in the water Sunday at the 12th hole, and there was Rose to take advantage.

"It's hard to win out here," Rose said. "I've been on Rickie's end a couple of times out here. You tee it up with a three-shot lead, it's not over. And you can do a decent day's work, like Rickie did today. Guys always come out of nowhere on Sunday, and that's why you've just go to keep your head down and play as hard as possible.

"It happened to me a couple of times out here, and you think, man, what do you got to do to win? Sometimes it's when you don't quite expect it."

For his part, Fowler seemed to handle the disappointment well. He now has five top-10 finishes this year and has easily secured his PGA Tour card for next year. He's given himself a couple of chances at victory, and is getting more comfortable in the role.

But as Rose can attest, it can sometimes take awhile, and nothing is guaranteed.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.