A fast train comes streaking over the tracks not far from the first tee at Carnoustie more than a dozen times a day, often forcing players to back off from their shots and shake their heads over the noisy intrusion on their preparations for the 128th British Open starting Thursday.

Yet the sound of steel on steel is merely a whisper compared to the ear-splitting roar that shook the grounds at Royal Birkdale just a year ago when 17-year-old Justin Rose holed out a 45-yard lob wedge for one final birdie at the 72nd hole to finish a dream Open. That shot gave Rose a tie for fourth place, the best finish by an amateur in 35 years.

In four days, the pink-cheeked English lad from Hook in Hampshire essentially became a national hero. In the second round, in dreadful conditions that led to an average score of 75, Rose had a remarkable 66. On the weekend, thousands came to the course wearing roses in hats or lapels, straining just to get a glimpse of this prodigy who was planning to turn pro the following week.

When his last shot rolled in the hole, Sir Michael Bonnallack, Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, proclaimed, "That was the loudest roar I have ever heard on a golf course."

Yet, for most of the days since, Rose has mostly heard the sounds of silence as he has played the golf courses of Europe. As one columnist for the Daily Telegraph wrote last week, "Justin Rose. And Then Fell."

And fell hard.

Since those glorious days at Birkdale, Rose has wilted under the pressure of great expectations and his own deteriorating game. At one point, he had missed 17 straight cuts playing on the European Tour until he finally broke through at the European Grand Prix. The next day, he shot an 83 and earned about $1,500.

Last month, he took a step down to the Challenge Tour, Europe's equivalent of the Nike Tour, and finished fourth, by far his best finish of what he described as one of the longest years of his life. Still, while it's been a constant struggle to make his way in the game he's played since age 5, he hasn't lost his youthful optimism, nor his sense of humor.

Asked this morning what he had shot in his practice rounds this week at Carnoustie, he laughed and said, "Sixty-two, 60. No, I've got no idea, really. You hit two or three balls off the tee. If you knock it in the rough, you look at the lie, get a feel for it, then drop it back in the fairway. That's the good thing about practice rounds. It feels like you're shooting 62."

It's been a long time since Rose has had that feeling, though he insists he sees signs that his game might be improving. His confidence, soaring after Birkdale, then sinking after so many missed cuts, is now "rising quite rapidly."

"There's no doubt the last month or so I've seen some results, made my first cut, finished fourth in a Challenge Tour event, had my lowest ever 72-hole total of 13 under. To me, that's progress."

Still, many critics in the media and some of his playing peers questioned the wisdom of Rose turning pro at such a young age. Today, U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart weighed in when asked about Zane Scotland, a 16-year-old who qualified to play here this week by shooting 69-71 on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

"I hope he doesn't turn pro if he finishes third," Stewart said. "You know, I would tell Justin that I wished he had gone over and played college golf in the States. He could have gotten a scholarship, and I'm sure as he's been reflecting on this past year, he might have thought the same thing too now. At 16 or 17, I don't think you're mature enough to come out here and compete with the best players in the world.

"His experience right now is not real good, so he's got a long way to grow. I hope it gets better for him, I really do."

Told of Stewart's comments, Rose smiled and politely disagreed, insisting he had absolutely no regrets.

"I think there were a couple of options," he said. "I enjoy being at home, and [going to college] was something I never considered too seriously. . . . I know a lot of guys have been to America and hate it. It also depends on the coach you get. You can be away from whoever is coaching you, and if you don't get on with your coach, you feel your game can go backwards. It's almost like a risk."

Rose is still coached by his father, Ken, who taught him the game as a child. Nick Faldo's former coach, David Leadbetter, also worked with him for the last two days and has said he still believes Rose can be a fine player.

So what happened after such stunning success at Birkdale? How could a player tie for fourth in the world's oldest major championship, then backslide so badly?

"The simple way to put it would be that I wasn't swinging the club well," Rose said. "I lost my rhythm, and then I lost my confidence. When you're playing under pressure with a game that was not really holding up, that's a hard thing to do. If you're swinging the club well and your confidence is up, you can play under as much pressure as anyone wants to put on you because you know you can handle it."

Rose would like to think that one day he will look back on this year as some sort of twisted blessing in disguise.

"It's as if somebody keeps saying, `No, you're not going to make the cut this week because you need to learn a little more,' " he said. "There's definitely been a sense of that. . . . Making the cut shouldn't be a big deal, but it's become a big deal because that's what everybody talks to me about. I know I'm better than just trying to make a cut, but that's always in the back of your mind."

British Open

When: Thursday-Sunday.

Course: Carnoustie Golf Club (7,361 yards, par 71), Carnoustie, Scotland.

Purse: $2,884,890 (approximate).

Winner's share: $506,805 (approximate).

TV: ESPN (Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 7:30-10:30 p.m.) and ABC (Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.).

Defending champion: Mark O'Meara (Royal Birkdale).

CAPTION: Justin Rose of England, celebrating birdie at last year's British Open, tied for fourth at that tournament, the best finish by an amateur in 35 years.

CAPTION: Justin Rose, an amateur at last year's British Open, at one point missed 17 straight cuts on European Tour as pro.