Justin Rose used to be what Rory McIlroy is today.
Well, close at least.
See if you recognize this guy: Teen-age European player who makes a splash or two in the majors and appears to be the next big thing in golf, the way Seve Ballesteros once was in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
That guy is McIlroy, who went on to win this year's U.S. Open in such dominant style that the golf world is already talking about Rory and Jack, as in Nicklaus, as in the magic number of 18.
That guy is NOT Lee Westwood, the world's No. 2 who has been on the doorstep of winning majors for years now, a late 30s rebirth to his career that has seen him fulfill so much of that teen-age potential ... and yet he hasn't won that major or even become -- his official world golf rank notwithstanding -- the next Seve, or even the next big thing.
And this week at Aronimink, that guy is still not Justin Rose.
He is the defending champion here, and he appears fully confident he can repeat the feat and get his season jumpstarted.
But Rose was also that teen-age sensation who never reached the pinnacle of his sport, only to see other young Europeans begin to pass him by. And though he's only 30, he has this almost unsual ease with which he talks about McIlroy's impending greatness, as though time is passing him by. Yet Rory's story could have been his. And when you listen to him talk, it you can tell he doesn't forget that.
"I don't feel sorry for Rory having to carry that burden of expectation," he said Tuesday through a slight and sneaky smile, as if to whisper to himself, "because that could have been me."
McIlroy isn't here in Philly. He won't tee it up again until the Britith Open in two weeks, so Rose has the stage here as he resumes his climb to the pinnacle of a sport now in need of a new No. 1 player. The golf world has pretty much annointed McIlroy with that place, but there is still time for guys like Rose -- who saw the last decade of his rising expectations trampled by Tiger Woods' historic run -- to share or take over some of McIlroy's spotlight.