The fans gave Rose a thunderous reception. In two days he had become the rage of Great Britain. (JUSTIN TIME, too, as one newspaper put it, because the rest of Britain's headliners—Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood—had played like amateurs.) Countless fans placed roses in their caps, following the lead of Rose's parents, Ken, a management consultant, and Annie. On every hole people shouted out Rose's name as he passed by, and Rose was such a rube he invariably searched the gallery to return the greetings. Between green and tee he enthusiastically exchanged high fives, and before and after his rounds he tirelessly indulged well-wishers and autograph seekers, a crowd that skewed noticeably toward preteen girls with dreamy looks. "I don't know what to make of it," Rose said charmingly. "I almost sort of saw myself as Jack Nicklaus for some silly reason."
On the eve of the final round, Birkdale was buzzing with two questions: Could Rose pull off a miracle, and would Sunday be his final round as an amateur? Rose had begun the week saying the Open would be a barometer to see if he was ready to join the pro ranks. "Looking at the way I've played and my comfort level, I guess I'm getting pretty close to making that decision," he said on Saturday night. All of this heavy breathing was evidence of the status that's now accorded the top amateurs.
With his three straight U.S. Amateur titles, from 1994 to '96, Woods made amateur golf matter again, but this season its visibility has gone to another level. Kuchar, a huggable junior at Georgia Tech, nearly stole the show at the Masters and the U.S. Open. Earlier this month at the U.S. Women's Open, Duke senior Jenny Chuasiriporn extended South Korea's Se Ri Pak to a playoff and, despite losing, offered a winning alternative to Pak's cold professionalism. Though Garcia, a Spaniard, hasn't broken through yet in a major, the 18-year-old's style of play and personality are flamboyant, and he, too, has become a fan favorite. When Rose was asked why the crowds warmed to him, he said, "It comes from the heart," and that's probably the best explanation of the amateurs' appeal. In a sport where the yardstick of success is the money list, the unsullied smile of a teenager buys a lot of love from the gallery.
Unfortunately, pars don't come that cheap, not on Sunday at the British Open. Rose began his final round with a bogey and followed with two more on the front nine, turning in 36, five back of Watts. With no chance at victory, he had to settle for glory. Rose was flawless on the back nine, making no bogeys against three birdies, the last that dazzling wedge on 18, from die rough 45 yards out to a pin tucked against a gaping bunker. "To finish on that note was in context with the whole week," Rose said. In die next breath he confirmed that he was going to play this week's Dutch Open as a pro, saying, "What a way to finish."
Rose's professional future is uncertain, but even if he does go on to make a fortune, his finest hour will always be his magical week at Royal Birkdale, when he earned nothing but the cheers of his countrymen.