HARTFORD, Conn. – In 52 years in journalism covering mostly golf, Justin Rose ranks among the most personable and accommodating individuals that I’ve ever encountered in any sport.
The popular 42-year-old Englishman has never refused an interview, even after he struggled on the back nine in the 2013 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, losing a three-stroke lead as he closed with a 4-over-par 74 to finish tied for 13th, six shots behind winner Ken Duke.
In 2018, Rose rose to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings before injuries and swing and equipment changes that didn’t immediately help caused him to fall into the 100s for several weeks. Before the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in California last/this week, he had missed 18 cuts in 67 starts since his previous victory in the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open. But the frustrations finally ended Monday when he completed a 6-under 66 in the weather-delayed fourth round for a 72-hole total of 18-under 269 and a three-stroke victory over Brendon Todd (65) and Brandon Wu (66).
“It’s amazing how long it has been since I won,” said Rose, who prevailed with a new set of Cobra irons that he didn’t even try until last Tuesday. “It was an incredible week from start to finish with so much happening in my favor, and this is a moment to thank the people who believed in me probably more than I did.”
Rose’s 11th PGA Tour title to go with 12 European Tour wins earned him a spot in the Masters and PGA Championship.
“I feel like I have been fortunate enough to win at some great venues, but Pebble’s right up there,” Rose said. “Just that you walk up 18, to sort of be able to build a bit of the lead to kind of enjoy it, it was a very special moment. I think obviously when you’re a bit starved for a win as well, the fact that it came today on a weather day like we had and at a venue that we had was just worth waiting for.
“I was strong out of the gate (on Monday), for sure. I was in the middle of the 10th fairway last night and felt that hole was a big momentum maker. To miss from short range early would have been kind of just a frustrating start. But to make that putt sure was awesome. Then to bury a 30-footer on the next hole, I felt like it was exactly the type of start I needed.”
Rose said the Masters had definitely been on his mind in a big way.
“I thought the simple way to approach it was to try to play my way into the Top 50 in the world by whenever the date is some time in March,” Rose said. “I think my world ranking divisor was only 37, so I had a few free hits, if you like. So I knew that making some points was going to do me good. That was my intention, to come out and play solid and earn some points and claw my way up the world rankings and make it that way.
“Obviously this is a better way to make it by winning a tournament. It’s funny how, by winning, you earn the points and everything takes care of itself. So, yeah, big relief from that point of view to be able to plan a little bit more of the run into Augusta now. I was playing a little bit more than maybe I would have wanted to because of that fact, but to have the luxury now is unbelievable.”
When play ended Sunday night because of darkness, Rose had a two-stroke lead over Todd, playing partner Peter Malnati and Denny McCarthy thanks largely to a 216-yard 4-iron shot from a fairway bunker over a massive mound on the sixth hole to 6 feet, setting up an eagle 3.
“I was really focused, just made sure I hit the back of the ball,” Rose said of the shot of the tournament. “You’ve got to strike it. You know that if you catch it half-an-inch fat, you could be in the ravine. Obviously, for it to climb up there to 6 feet was a bit fortunate. But I did my part. I struck it, stayed out of trouble, committed to it.”
After the “momentum builder,” Rose made a 20-foot birdie putt at the iconic par-3 seventh hole and a gut-check par at the demanding par-4 eighth. He had returned to Pebble Beach for his fourth round after having played 10 holes in 6-under at Monterey Peninsula CC to take the lead at 12-under. An opening bogey at Pebble Beach put a temporary halt to his charge, but a birdie at the second hole and eagle-birdie run at Nos. 6 and 7 got him back on track to victory. He was the first Englishman to win the tournament, and it was his fifth consecutive cut with three Top-10s and two Top-20s.
“I’ve been trending,” Rose said.
As darkness approached Saturday, Rose hit his drive on the par-4 10th hole and elected to mark his ball at 3 under for the round and 15 under for the tournament. After making par after play resumed Monday morning, he solidified his position with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 11. Todd birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine to get within a shot of the lead, but Rose made birdie putts of 20 and 8 feet on the 13th and 14th holes to all but settle the issue. Todd could only manage four closing pars, which were matched by Rose, who vaulted to a tie for ninth in the FedExCup standings. He also vastly improved his chances to make a sixth European Ryder Cup team in October in Italy as the team has been fractured due to key members joining LIV Golf.
Rose, a father of two, might have known it was going to be his week when he made a hole-in-one with a pitching wedge on the 15th hole at Spyglass Hills on a dreary Friday reminiscent of his native England. His victory came after he won the 2013 U.S. Open, the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 2018 FedExCup title and its $10 million prize. He burst into prominence in the 1998 Open Championship when he pre-qualified as an amateur and holed a wedge shot from the rough on the final hole to finish in a tie for fourth. But he missed his first 21 cuts as a professional before earning the Order of Merit on the European Tour in 2007 on a steady climb to the top of the world rankings.
Rose, recipient of the prestigious Payne Stewart Award in 2021 for his character, sportsmanship and commitment to charitable giving, has 19 top-10 finishes in major championships, and a few more wins could earn him a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame that I would happily applaud.
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