Europe now has five of the top seven golfers in the world after Justin Rose roared back into the big time in Miami last night.
A week after Rory McIlroy went to number one by capturing the Honda Classic, Rose leapt from 22nd to seventh with his one-stroke victory over American Bubba Watson at the Cadillac Championship – the second of this season’s world championships.
It was the 31-year-old’s fourth success on the PGA Tour, putting him alongside Tony Jacklin and Luke Donald with Nick Faldo the only English player remaining ahead of him with nine.
Six of those were majors, of course, and just like Donald they are now the top targets for Rose.
If there is one favourite for the Masters in three weeks’ time, however, it has to be McIlroy – especially with Tiger Woods pulling out injured after 11 holes of his final round.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, eight shots adrift teeing off and joint eighth, came through to third with a 67 – and so has still finished outside the top five only once since last August.
McIlroy was just one behind at one point, but in the end it was Watson who gave Rose most cause for concern after his own bogey on the final hole had left him 16 under par.
The left-hander, twice in water early on as he tossed away a three-stroke overnight, came to the last one behind and hit a spectacular shot from the rough to nine feet on one of golf’s hardest holes.
“It had me sweating,” said Rose, who had to prepare himself mentally for a play-off until Watson missed his birdie attempt.
The victory put Rose on course for a Ryder Cup return after being left out by Colin Montgomerie in 2010 despite two wins in the United States that summer.
First things first, though, and that means preparing himself for Augusta.
He was only one behind with two to play in 2007, but double-bogeyed the 17th and came fifth.
His best finish in a major remains his fourth place as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 Open – a performance that was followed by 21 successive missed cuts at the start of his professional career.
“There’s going to be a lot of expectation on Rory and on Tiger as there always is,” said Rose, who did not know about the former world number one’s Achilles tendon problem until afterwards.
“Hopefully he’s holding himself back for the Masters and didn’t want to do any more damage.
“After this win I suppose I’m now in the mix of players to talk about, but it’s all part of being a pro.
“I don’t think it will change the way I’m going to approach anything.”
After two days of spectacular low scoring Rose won with a two-under-par 70, commenting: “It turned out to be a battle rather than a birdie fest, but 70 is a great round now in relative terms.”
As with his third-round 65, McIlroy had two bogeys in the last five holes after threatening something really special.
But he said: “It’s my fifth start of the season and my fifth top five.
“It’s been another good week. It feels like every time I tee it up I have a chance to win.”
The US Open champion now has three weeks off before the opening major of the season – the one where last year he led by four with a round to go and blew up with an 80.