Justin Rose is back at world number one and back in tandem with long-time caddie Mark Fulcher as he seeks an elusive Masters title.
Fulcher, who has worked for Rose for more than 10 years and helped him win the 2013 US Open and Olympic gold in 2016, underwent heart surgery in January but is back on Rose’s bag at Augusta National.
Rose has never missed the cut in 13 appearances in the year’s first major and finished second to Jordan Spieth in 2015 with the joint lowest score by a runner-up in tournament history.
The 38-year-old also lost a play-off to Sergio Garcia in 2017 and is unsurprisingly among the favourites to slip on the famous green jacket on Sunday.
“I know time has been going very slowly for Fooch and he’s been chomping at the bit to get back, but he’s stayed very much integrated and engaged in my game,” Rose said.
“Once he knew he was looking good to caddie this week, which was his ultimate goal, he came out to Austin (for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play) to kind of get some of the back slapping out of the way so he could focus on business this week, which was smart of him.”
Gareth Lord, the former caddie of Rose’s Ryder Cup partner Henrik Stenson, stood in for Fulcher and Rose added: “Fooch said to Lordy, ‘you’ve got one job, just give him back to me as world number one’. The fact that the ranking switched this week was kind of a nice touch.”
Rose held a two-shot lead with six holes to play in 2017, but saw playing partner Garcia save par on the 13th after a penalty drop from the bushes and then birdie the 14th and make an eagle on the par-five 15th.
Birdies on the 15th and 16th gave Rose the lead once more but he bogeyed the 17th and after both players parred the last, Garcia claimed the title with a birdie on the first play-off hole after Rose could only make a bogey five.
“I felt like that was the first major I’ve been close to and not won, really, like a heartbreaker,” Rose added. “I think I took comfort in the fact that you can’t get through a career without something like that happening. So just deal with it and move on.
“You’re not the first person, you won’t be the last, so just kind of get on with it. So that was my attitude to it and it wasn’t like a hole in the heart or anything, but then when something would trigger a memory it was a bit of a downer maybe for maybe a few months there.
“It just taught me when you win a tournament, you need that little bit of luck on your side. I’ve had it many times in my career. Sergio had a break on 13, the way it goes sometimes when you win.”
Tiger Woods is the last player to win the Masters (2002) while ranked world number one, but Rose did win the Farmers Insurance Open in January in a previous spell at the top of the standings.
“I have won as world number one, which is something that was important to me,” Rose said. “I was able to do that in San Diego this year, but clearly to win a major as number one would be even more fantastic. I use it as maybe a little inspiration, certainly not as an expectation.
“I always look at myself and think, okay, I can still get better. That’s what really motivates me is finding gaps in my game and trying to fill those gaps. The ranking is a moment in time where I’ve just done a better job than everybody else over a two-year period.
“So I look at the next two years, and how can I improve on the previous two.”