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Rose begins to shine on World stage

The next challenger to Tiger Woods' throne could be the pimply-faced, lanky Justin Rose, already blooming as a star in England.

The last time people really paid attention to Rose was in 1998 when he splashed onto the scene by finishing fourth at the British Open as an 18-year-old amateur, then missed the cut in his first 21 tournaments as a pro, returning to European Tour qualifying school in 1999 and 2000.

Rose's work with famed coach David Ledbetter on his driving helped correct his problems.

Game lost, game rediscovered. Rose, 22, has learned -- and shown -- much from that roller-coaster stretch, and served notice this summer, including Sunday at the NEC Invitational at Sahalee Country Club, that he might stick around for a while.

He has posted a pair of top-25 finishes at the past two majors, the British Open (tied for 22nd) and PGA Championship last week at Hazeltine Golf Club (tied for 23rd), including an opening-round 69.

Sunday, he recorded his third round at the NEC Invitational at Sahalee Country Club in the 60s, closing with a 3-under-par 68 on a difficult course.

His fifth-place finish at the NEC is the best by a first-time player in any world golf championship event.

Of course, he is just 22. Rose made a couple of mistakes that took him out of contention with two bogeys on reachable par-5s, and his bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes did him in.

"Twice I bounced back from back-to-back bogeys," said Rose of his four-bogey, seven-birdie round. "I didn't let it get to me and kept plugging away."

But birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 got him back into the top 10, which will help him climb the world rankings (he is 37th in the world) and add to his cash flow and Order of Merit points standings on the European Tour.

"It's a big week," said Rose, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but will be eligible to play for the European Ryder Cup team in 2003 because of his British ancestry. He has won three times overseas this season.

Don't purchase your PGA Tour event tickets in advance hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the near future. Unlike fellow European stars Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, Rose plans on honing his skills in Europe full-time before arriving to become one of Woods' mainstay challengers.

One of the guys Rose will take shots at every week is Australia's Adam Scott, who is also 22 and two weeks older than Rose.

Scott won the Diageo Scottish PGA Championship on Sunday by 10 strokes, and is heralded as Australia's next superstar.

Woods, for one, said that is a sound strategy for players like Rose and Scott, who need to play every week, gain confidence against smaller fields and with big galleries watching.

"I think being over there will help," Woods said.

Unlike some of the mechanical-looking European players, Rose is talented and fluid -- a long driver of the ball, and displays creativity around the greens.

Case in point came on the 16th hole Sunday. Stuck behind a tree with no clear path, Rose cut a 6-iron around the tree to a hole that doglegged right, and the ball stopped 10 feet from the hole.

He made his final birdie by sinking the putt.

"To hole the putt was a case of stealing a shot from the course, if not two," Rose said.

If Garcia, or Ernie Els run out of steam trying to take on Woods, Rose could be the next challenger.

"Justin is a tremendous player who hits the ball a long way," said Phil Mickelson, in Rose's group Sunday. "He has a very solid golf swing, and rolls it very well on the greens. I look forward to playing with, and against, him for many more years."

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