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Marching to the tune of an English Rose

In the end, the thistle was smothered by the rose, and Marc Warren summed it up perfectly.

A piper leads the way as Justin Rose walks to the 18th green at Balgownie to collect the trophy. Picture: Colin Mearns
A piper leads the way as Justin Rose walks to the 18th green at Balgownie to collect the trophy. Picture: Colin Mearns

"He was clinical," said the Scot as Englishman Justin Rose marched imperiously to a two-stroke victory yesterday in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

Warren, paired with Rose for the closing round at Royal Aberdeen, had hoped to be the thorn in his rival's side. Instead, it was rampant Rose who was enjoying the sweet scent of yet another success as he straddled the Atlantic with back-to-back triumphs.

Two weeks ago Rose was winning on the PGA Tour at Congressional. Last night, he was conquering in the Granite City. Anybody fancy a triple whammy in this week's Open on the Wirral?

"I've never won two events in a row before, never mind three," admitted a jubilant Rose when asked about his prospects in the forthcoming Hoylake bonanza. "I'm in uncharted territory. This has been a week of firsts, really. It's my first professional win in Scotland, although I did win the St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur."

Just to keep First Minister Alex Salmond happy at the prize-giving, there was that added Caledonian connection. "My late grandfather, Donald, was born in Scotland, so that maybe softens the blow," added Rose with a smile.

Rose's neatly assembled six-under 65 for a 16-under 268 left him clear of Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg with Warren eventually finishing five off the pace in third on 273 after a closing 70. How he must have wished he could have conjured the final day surge of his compatriot, Stephen Gallacher, who came hurtling up into a share of fourth place with a sizzling course record-equalling 63. Warren did not do a lot wrong, mind you. Rose, calm and controlled throughout, was simply at the top of his game.

"Once he got out in front it was always going to be tough," added Warren after his best finish of the season and his second near-miss in his home Open. "My ball-striking was up there with what it's been all week, but the putter went cold on me."

Level-pegging with Warren at the start of the closing 18, Rose hit his nearest challengers with a shuddering early salvo as raking putts at the second, third and fifth saw him pick up birdies on four of his opening six holes. It took Warren until the sixth to register his first gain of the day, but by then Rose was well in command.

It was not a complete procession, though. Broberg, kept chipping away and when Rose found himself in a nasty position behind the greenside bunker on the 15th, the potential for damage was considerable. A superb up-and-down salvaged his par, however, and helped to stave off the threat of any menacing advances.

"I thought I was three ahead on 15 and realised I was just two in front, so that was the best up-and-down of the week," added Rose of that key moment as he took his earnings for the last two weeks to almost $2m. "I now feel much more comfortable with the expectations. I always felt going into majors that I was looking for that new level, but now, I'm not chasing that next level. I'm beginning to trust my game."

After the boisterous breezes of the opening three days, the wind on the final day had about as much impact as mild flatulence. A decent dousing of overnight rain, which lingered on for a good spell of the morning, helped to soften up the defences that had been as fortified as Troy. Chile's Felipe Aguilar showed what could be achieved early on when he set a new course record by zipping round in an eight-under 63 which was burnished by six birdies over his first eight holes. That would set the tone for the day as all and sundry went on the offensive.

No group got it going quite like the Scottish pairing of Gallacher and Scott Jamieson, who were a combined 15-under with rounds of 63 and 64 respectively. The birdie blitz would ultimately help Jamieson towards a place in the Open as one of the leading players in the top-10 who were not already exempt. The last time Gallacher ripped out a 63 was in the third round of February's Dubai Desert Classic, which he went on to win. The 39-year-old was never going to catch Rose but his final flourish propelled him up the standings.

"I'd had seven three-putts and one four-putt this week," he said. "But I don't know how may putts I had today. It was certainly not many and that is always a good thing."

As the rain disappeared, the cloud lifted and the warming sun keeked through, Phil Mickelson looked as relaxed as a man who had just emerged from a hot tub as he ambled in with a closing 65 for an eight-under 276 and a share of 11th. "It was certainly not as draining, mentally or physically, today because of the benign conditions," said last year's champion after taking a good old Balgownie buffeting over the previous three days. Ahead of his defence of the Open at Hoylake this week, Lefty is feeling all right and that peaceful, easy feeling has been bolstered by the fact that he doesn't have to chase the Claret Jug anymore.

"I just feel different, knowing I can go there as a past champion, as opposed to a foreign player who has never been able to conquer links golf," he admitted. "It's now a fraction of the pressure that I felt before Open Championships past. Once you've already won it, once you've held the Claret Jug, it just feels different. You don't feel like you have to fight it and have to force it anymore."

Rory McIlroy, hamstrung by a second-round 78, closed with a 67 for 277 to share 14th. He will head to Hoylake looking to iron out the flaws. Rose, meanwhile, will venture forth in full bloom.

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