by Jack Miller
Justin Rose is being forced to watch this week’s BMW PGA Championship from the sidelines, but Sky Sports pundit Nick Dougherty is confident a second US Open title is very much on the cards for the Englishman next month.
The 35-year-old has ruled himself out of the European Tour’s showcase event at Wentworth, choosing to rest a back injury that has plagued him since the Players Championship.
It will pain Rose to miss what he considers his ‘home’ tournament, having never won there before, despite finishing second on two occasions, including a play-off defeat to Anders Hansen in 2007.
But Dougherty believes that if Rose can regain fitness and get his putter firing, he will be in contention at “ball-striker’s paradise” Oakmont for next month’s US Open. Having led after 18 holes in 2007, Rose will know the Pennsylvania venue better than most.
Rose’s consistency across the pond this season has been remarkable – he has seven top-20 finishes from 11 events in 2016, including top tens at Pebble Beach, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Wells Fargo and the Masters. But being slightly hot and cold on the greens has cost him his elusive 20th professional victory and Dougherty knows that is where the US Open could be won or lost for the world No10.
“Justin is really close at the moment to getting another win,” said Dougherty, who was speaking at last week’s SSE Women’s Invitational at Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club.
“He’s playing really solidly, and should have won a few weeks ago at the Wells Fargo. He had a great chance there at Quail Hollow but just didn’t play his best golf over the weekend, and he played great at times as well at Sawgrass.
“He’s so close, I just think the putter has not quite been as kind to him as he’d have liked. But tee to green he’s as good as it gets on the Tour at the moment.
“He’s going for his seventh year in a row winning on the PGA tour. That is not easy to do at all, but Oakmont will suit him because it’s a ball-striker’s paradise, and the only thing that he will need to brush up on to win there will be his putter.
“If he putts well he’s a fantastic bet to win around that golf course, and can he win another Major? 100 per cent with his golf game.”
Dougherty is enjoying a transitional period as he moves away from playing professionally and into full-time punditry.
The 35-year-old is a three-time winner on the European Tour but played just four events last year, although he showed that he can still cut the mustard with a top-30 finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – his best performance for almost five years.
And having missed out on playing privileges at Q School and committing to 23 weeks of tournament coverage with Sky this year, Dougherty admits that his days as a European Tour pro are probably behind him.
He said: “My game hasn’t been too good the last two or three years, but I am still playing a little bit. It’s been very difficult as I feel like I’ve put a lot in without really getting a lot out of it. I am preparing and working as hard at being a pundit as I did with my own golf game, and in many ways the adrenaline buzz of doing live TV is actually very similar to being in contention in a tournament. The difference is I feel it every day when I am doing it on TV. I haven’t given up on playing just yet though.
“I am still practising a bit but I don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none, so it is finding that balance at the moment.
“I don’t think I can see myself getting back out on the Tour. Playing golf has a difference place for me now even though I still really enjoy it, but I don’t want to be out there full-time any more.
“I love what I do with Sky and more so I have a family now with two children.
“As a professional golfer you are never ‘off’ even when you are at home, but now I can relax when I’m not working.”
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*This article was originally published in TGP on 25 May 2016.