GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Most of the world's top players are skipping the Quicken Loans National. Justin Rose wouldn't miss it – even if he weren't the defending champion.
Rose won the event in 2010 at Aronimink and last year at Congressional. This year, the Quicken Loans National moves to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, a course he's never seen. Given its place on the crowded PGA Tour schedule, a week off might be tempting – but not for Rose.
"It's one of my favorite tournaments on Tour. Got a couple of the best-looking trophies on Tour," Rose said. "It's about winning tournaments and playing places where you feel you can win."
Rose, the world's seventh-ranked player, is a favorite this week along with No. 8 Rickie Fowler. Just three others from the world's top 50 are playing, leaving the Quicken Loans National with the second-weakest field among stand-alone PGA Tour events this season.
Tournament host Tiger Woods used to beef up the quality of the field. But he hasn't won in almost two years while battling injuries and changing his swing, and his ranking has plummeted to 266th. He needs a win this week just to get into next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, an event he's won eight times.
Rose will play the next three weeks in a row, ending at the PGA Championship. At 15th in the FedExCup standings, he can expect to play all four playoff events. He's trying to conserve energy, even if that means he doesn't learn every nuance of RTJ.
He didn't play a practice round on Tuesday, instead working on 60-yard wedge shots with short-game coach David Orr. Rose said he was inspired by watching Zach Johnson ride his precise wedge game to victory at the Open Championship. He began the final round tied with Johnson but finished four shots out of a playoff.
"One of the reasons I struggled to make a charge on Sunday was I wasn't able to get it as close as I like to the pins with my wedges," Rose said. "You need to be very accurate with your wedge play, which is what Zach has made a great career of."
Rose is known as a great ball-striker who thrives in tough conditions when birdies are at a premium. He doesn't think RTJ will be as tough as Congressional last year – when his winning score was 4-under par – but with thick rough and fast, undulating greens with multiple tiers, it ought to suit his game.
Plus, the Mid-Atlantic region in the summer brings out some of Rose's best golf.
"You've got some of the world's greatest golf courses in this area, and very traditional in nature, and I really enjoy that," Rose said. "Just a pure place to play, from a purist's point of view."
Fowler said he did more prep work than usual, showing up Monday and playing a full 18-hole practice round on Tuesday.
"Just getting acclimated," he said. "To really get two looks around a golf course is key just so you can go around and double-check things the second time."
Players are raving about the conditions at RTJ, which has been softened by thunderstorms. The most challenging elements may be the heat and humidity, with temperatures expected to top 90 degrees every day and no rain in the forecast after Thursday.
Still, asked whether he'd rather play in Virginia or his native Scotland in the summer, Stephen Gallacher didn't hesitate.
"Virginia," he said as sweat dripped off his nose. "It's nice to get a bit of heat. Back home, it isn't a summer at all."
The fairways are generous enough to reward aggressive play off the tee, especially in soft conditions. Charlie Beljan, who ranks fourth on Tour in driving distance, called it "a bomber's paradise" and one of the five best courses on his schedule.
"I think it's flawless. Everything about this place is first-class," Beljan said. "It's too bad they're going back to Congressional next year."
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