By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) - Justin Rose will be bidding next week to become the U.S. Open's first back-to-back winner in 25 years and he knows meticulous tournament preparation will give him the best chance of success at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
Twelve months ago, Rose produced remarkable poise and a Ben Hogan-like finish at Merion to claim his first major title by two shots, and he plans to replicate the careful strategy that worked so well for him that week on Pinehurst's No. 2 Course.
"My preparation's going to be key," world number nine Rose told reporters ahead of the June 12-15 U.S. Open.
"It's developing and designing a game plan that you believe will hold up over 72 holes that you can execute, that suits your game and that will produce the winning score.
"And that's what I did at Merion. I produced a game plan to shoot (around) even par, and that held up. So I need to do the same at Pinehurst."
Rose closed with a level-par 70 in difficult scoring conditions at Merion to post a one-over total of 281 and become the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970.
American Curtis Strange won consecutive U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989 and Rose, who had not played a practice round at Pinehurst until this week, accepts that the challenge for him to follow suit will be difficult.
"I had not been to Merion until the week before the tournament last year so my preparation is going to be very similar," said Rose.
"But guys who played in (the) 2005 (U.S. Open held at Pinehurst) won't have as much of an advantage because of the course re-design," added the Englishman, referring to renovations made in 2011 by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
"There was a lot of rough in 2005 and the fairways were narrow, typically U.S. PGA-style fairways. This year, it's going to play I think more of a running game, almost a mix between a U.S. Open and an Open Championship."
BACK TO FULL HEALTH
Rose, who is back to full health after being hampered by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the first six weeks this year, has always felt that his game is well suited to the test traditionally provided by the U.S. Open.
"I like to play the tough golf courses," said the six-times European winner. "Typically that's when I've done my best relatively to the field.
"I've always said the eight to 10-under mark (after 72 holes) is a good ... it's the kind of golf I like to play where you can go out and shoot a good score but par is still a good number.
"I feel like I've got all the shots; it's just a matter of putting them all together in the one week you need them and putting them in four rounds together."
Though Rose lost some valuable competition time earlier this year while recovering from tendinitis in his right shoulder, he hopes that could benefit him as the season unfolds.
"Maybe I'll be a little fresher than some of the guys who have played a lot," said the 33-year-old, who has recorded five top-10s in 11 starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour with a best finish of joint fourth at the Players Championship last month.
"I kept trying to tell myself that it is a long year, and you can build your year in two or three weeks, especially with the majors coming around.
"If you catch fire at the right point in the season, it can be still a great year."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)