With the idea that this tournament would be a dress rehearsal for 2013, Justin Rose is sending a message that he will be a force this season, writes Steve Elling.
A relaxed Justin Rose takes Abu Dhabi Championship in stride
Justin Rose picked an interesting way to decompress.
Most guys would be kicking back in a hammock, swaying and suspended between a pair of palm trees in a Bahama breeze.
Instead, Rose, the world No 5, is in the middle of a working holiday of sorts. After finishing play this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, he is entered in next week's European Tour stop in Qatar, too.
"My view is, these two weeks are the middle of my off-season," he said. Rest, relaxation and remuneration?
Rose padded his lead to two strokes with a third-round 68 yesterday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and he may be hard to catch.
"He had a great year in some very big events," said Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, who will play alongside Rose in Sunday's final round. "I don't think he's going to come back to us. So we'll have to go out and be aggressive."
Rose's style can best be described as passive-aggressive. He has repeatedly said that he is using the week more as a dress rehearsal to gauge the state of his game as he enters 2013, not as a do-or-die proposition in the event he cannot hold the lead. That said, he is fully aware that others won't be evaluating the week in quite the same laid-back context.
"I'm a marked man to the rest of the field," he said. "But at this point, it's just a position and I've got to go finish it off."
Don't think he won't do it. Rose is 12 under and only three others are within three strokes of the lead. He had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front nine to seize the lead and looked utterly composed.
"Every time I had a club in my hand," he said, "I thought I was going to hit a good shot."
Rose is seeking to win in wire-to-wire fashion, a feat he has already accomplished on the US PGA Tour. Based on his exemplary form of the past few months, there is no reason to think he is going to fold.
Note to those in arrears in the scoreboard: over his last four rounds in the UAE, dating to the Race to Dubai finale in November, he is 22 under.
"He played really steady," said Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Rose's partner on Saturday. He noted that Rose three-putted the first hole, but "apart from that, he played flawless golf. His game looks so easy".
In Rose's last six starts of 2012, only once did he finish outside the top 11, and in that span, he finished second at the mega-money finales of both the European and PGA tours.
Moreover, there's one victory that isn't on his world-ranking sheet, because it wasn't technically an official event. He won an eight-man match-play tournament last autumn in Turkey, and while that doesn't sound like much of an achievement, he beat Tiger Woods in the semi-finals and Lee Westwood for the title, two former world No 1s.
Who is poised to steal his thunder on Sunday? Of his three closest pursuers, only one has amassed more than a single victory on the European Tour. None of the players possessing the best CVs threw a scare at him on Saturday, including the three-time event winner Martin Kaymer, the world No 11 Jason Dufner or the teen prodigy Matteo Manassero, who all began the day within arm's reach.
For once, maybe Rose will get his just desserts in the desert.
In his biggest victory, last year at the Cadillac Championship in Florida, Rose was overshadowed when Woods limped off the course and straight to his car in the middle of the final round, then bolted. Two times over the years in Dubai, including at the season finale last November, Rory McIlroy, the reigning world No 1, beat him in tight duels down the stretch.
Both of those players missed the cut on Friday, leaving Rose as the top-ranked man in the field. He is certainly playing to his quantified reputation. He is being chased by, among others, the former Thai military paratrooper Thongchai Jaidee, who, like everybody else, needs Rose to have a major chute malfunction.
Rose, seemingly entering his prime at age 32, won the European Tour Order of Merit in 2007 and has since become a steady winner in the States, where he makes his home. Now the father of two young children, the former English wunderkind, who had some serious setbacks early in his career, is all grown up. His game has matured just as nicely.
"Perhaps there was a day when he thought he was good," said Mark Fulcher, now in his fifth year as Rose's caddie. "Now it's my impression that he believes he's a good player. From what he says to me, it's about a journey to see how good he can become."
This particular trek could include two memorable weeks in the desert.
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