PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | It is thought it has never happened before. Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood playing together in a tournament, that is. Not just three Europeans. Not just three Britons. But three Englishmen, all of whom figure to be at the Ryder Cup in France in September even if Poulter is only there as a vice captain. But then the English are in the news in the US at the moment, aren’t they? Isn’t there a royal wedding in a little more than one week?
The three were paired Thursday in the first round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Fleetwood’s 69, 3-under par, and Poulter’s 70 were slightly overshadowed by Rose’s 68 at the time of day when the tigerish Stadium Course was at its most benign and a realistic par might have 71 or 70, not 72. “It’s nice being out with people you are comfortable with,” Fleetwood said. “You have a chat on the way round and we all played well. As mornings go, it was lovely.”
Rose, who will be 38 at the end of July, has a slight chance to reach world No. 1 this week. Ranked fifth currently, he probably needs to win and for Dustin Johnson, the current leader of the world ranking, to finish well down the field. Asked if he was thinking about this, Rose grinned and replied: “Not after Dustin got 4-, 5- and 6-under par. I thought I had better play well this week not to go miles behind him again.”
Rose, one of the most consistent pros, is admired by his peers for his ballstriking and the way he conducts himself. “Especially for young pros coming up or kids that are trying to improve, I think Justin is about as good a role model as you can get,” Fleetwood said. Poulter added: “He’s worked tirelessly with his team, fitness and swing wise, nutrition, he’s moved to the Bahamas. He’s tucked himself away to do his job and he is making an impressive fist of it. Very impressive.”
In Rose’s 15th appearance at this event – he has lasted four rounds only eight times – it was his third-lowest opening-round score. He had a 65 on his way to a tied 19th finish in in 2016 and a 67 in the first round two years before that.
“I got to world No. 3 (in July 2014) but there’s more guys playing good golf at the moment than a few years ago,” Rose said. “It’s very strong at the top. Dustin has a lot of challengers.”
And after the first round of the Players, and even though he is two strokes behind Johnson, Rose is very much one of them.