LOS ANGELES – Justin Rose is ready to get back to golf.
His baseball career is over.
It wasn’t actually a baseball that caused the U.S. Open champion to wait until the middle of February at the Northern Trust Open to play his first golf tournament of the year. Rose has been home with an ailing shoulder that was a problem deep into last year.
He traced it to a bad decision at The Barclays last August in New Jersey.
He was on the green at Liberty National and his caddie was some 60 yards away – Rose recalls him raking a bunker – when Rose heaved a golf ball in his direction.
“I think that was the moment where it started to flare up from that point on the rest of the year,” he said at Riviera. “Just threw it too far, really.”
Rose recovered quickly that week and had the best chance to win. He had a 25-foot birdie putt for the outright lead on the 18th hole and wound up three-putting for bogey to finish one shot behind Adam Scott.
But it continued to nag at him the rest of the European Tour season, and he was hopeful some time off around the holidays would help. He returns much later than he imagined, but figured it was time to get to work ahead of the Florida swing and leading into the Masters.
“It was a race against time to really get back playing and get back strong,” he said. “And if I’m honest, I’ve only really been hitting balls, drivers, for about a week, 10 days now. So it really has been down to the wire. But I figured that I wanted to get out and play, and if I wanted to play well in the near future, I thought it was important for me to get out and play some competitive golf.
“My game has felt really good at home,” he said. “I’m swinging it really nicely and everything technically looks really good. Had an opportunity to spend a lot of time on my short game, but when you get a scorecard in your hand everything is a little different. So I wanted so make sure I got my season underway.”
The field at Riviera isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years, most of that due to Phil Mickelson taking off this week because his oldest daughter is on winter break. Adam Scott chose not to play – he won’t return until the Honda Classic.
Others who played the last two years but are absent from Riviera include Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson and Luke Donald, who is missing this for the first time in his career.
Matt Kuchar returns after a four-week break in Hawaii.
Jimmy Walker, coming off his third win of the season at Pebble Beach, goes after win No. 4 at what he calls his favorite course on tour. He’s not the only one who feels that way. Fred Couples was given a sponsor exemption and is playing for the 32nd time.
Couples, a two-time winner at Riviera, first played in 1982. He tied for 13th with Gene Littler. Tom Watson won that year in a playoff over Johnny Miller. If that’s not enough to make Couples feel older than his 54 years, he is playing Thursday with Jordan Spieth, who was born a year after Couples won the Masters.
For Rose, the road to the Masters starts now.
He plans to compete next week in the Match Play Championship provided the shoulder holds up. And he might cut back some of his Florida schedule depending on how deep he goes in Match Play.
“If you want to play well in Florida, it might start now,” Rose said. “If you want to play well at Augusta, it might start now. If you want to play well this week, it definitely starts now. You definitely can’t do it sitting at home. Like I said, I worked really hard, every day, diligently. Did my rehab, didn’t miss a session. Just did everything I could to get ready to play this week. That was my goal and my intent, and it’s nice to be here.”
Rose and everyone else in the field could be in for a treat.
The forecast is for sunny, warm and dry conditions all week, which means Riviera could be faster than usual.