Justin Rose prevails at Torrey Pines after bending but not breaking
At exactly 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, the leaderboard for the Farmers Insurance Open was as star-crossed as you could find in any PGA Tour event. Any major, for that matter.
Among the top six names, there were five former major champions and a previous Farmers titlist who ranks seventh in the world.
Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Jon Rahm.
And yet, the battle of the titans down the stretch looked less like MMA and more like patty cake.
Rose, the world’s No. 1 golfer, mustered all of the wisdom of his 19 years in professional golf and saw to that.
After a shaky start in which he bogeyed three of his first five holes, Rose righted himself with some veteran mental tricks and closed with a three-under-par 69 on the Torrey Pines South Course to win the tournament by two shots over Scott (68).
After early foibles that included a missed putt from less than two feet, Scott rallied to finish with four straight birdies. His total of 19 under would have won all but four of the tournaments played at Torrey Pines since 1969.
That’s how good Rose was, and if the victory doesn’t rank up there with him capturing the 2013 U.S. Open or the Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Summer Games, it will be cherished for the company he kept and the track on which he excelled.
The milestones he achieved during the week were many.
Rose’s 21-under 267 total came up one short of the tournament record set by Tiger Woods in his first victory at Torey Pines in 1999.
Rose bested Woods in one respect, shooting 63-66-69-69 to become the first player since Peter Jacobsen in 1995 (on far easier courses here) to record four rounds in the 60s at Torrey Pines.
With his 10th win in America, Rose became the all-time winningest Englishman in the modern era; the $1.27 million first prize pushed him past $50 million in career earnings; and his first January win since 2002 extended to 10 straight years Rose has won an event somewhere in the world.
“There’s a lot of cool things,” the 38-year-old Rose said with a smile. “Yeah, today’s been a good day.
“I mean, 21 under par is great golf, obviously. But you had to do it. Adam Scott got right there and played some great golf coming down the stretch. It was a tricky day today. A three-shot lead is never easy, and just the start was, anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
There was even a rallying cry for Rose this week: His longtime caddie, Mark Fulcher, underwent heart valve-replacement surgery in New York this month, and Rose played the last two weeks with Gareth Lord carrying the bag.
“It’s been an emotional week, a different week,” Rose said. “Obviously dedicated this one to my caddie, ‘Fooch,’ who’s sitting at home and probably finding it much harder to sit at home than actually being out here, and probably harder than the heart surgery itself, watching this weekend. This one’s for him.”
Starting the round with a three-shot lead put Rose in an uncomfortable position. He’d only closed out four of 14 previous attempts to capitalize when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. Torrey Pines is tough enough to not have allowed a third-round leader to close one out since Woods in 2008.
It looked as if Rose might join the ledger of collapses when he bogeyed the first, fourth and fifth holes while tossing in a birdie at No. 3. His lead was down to two.
Rose recalled chastising himself with “you’re No. 1 in the world for a reason, just start playing like it, please.”
Said Lord, his caddie: “We talked about basically getting back to what we were doing the first three days. That’s the short of it. He sort of snapped out of it and got going again.”
After the bogey on the fifth in which he saw his ball horseshoe around the back of the cup, and a missed birdie chance at the par-five sixth, Rose used another mental trick. With pencil in hand, he scratched a line on his scorecard after the No. 6 box.
“It’s a tactic I’ve used in the past,” Rose said. “Sometimes I’ll then play match play against the course. I won’t look at the leaderboard. I’ll pick a goal, pick a score I think I can attain. Today, I tried to at that point. I was three-down to the course, and the goal was to beat the golf course.”
Rose’s bounce back was immediate, with three birdies over the next four holes — Nos. 7, 9 and 10 — that deflated anyone else’s hopes of catching him.
“There were times in my career where I’ve had decent-sized leads and you start to throw it away a little bit and you panic,” Rose said. “I just knew I couldn’t do that today. I stayed calm; I stayed with it.”
Even when Scott tried to challenge Rose with four straight birdies to end the round, the winner answered with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18.
“Justin was 20 under through 13 holes of the third round,” Scott marveled. “I mean, I don’t know if that’s ever happened [at Torrey Pines]. He’s playing great. He’s the No. 1 player in the world. He’s showing why right now.”
Behind Scott, Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Talor Gooch (68) tied for third at 16 under. Another two shots back, locked in fifth, were Day (67), McIlroy (69) and Rahm (72).
In his first start of the year, Woods closed with his best score of the week (67) and tied for 20th.
To catch the top players such as Rose, Woods will have to up his game considerably, because the quality of golf just keeps getting better.
Woods won the 2008 Farmers Open with a score two strokes worse than Rose’s from Sunday. Woods’ ridiculous winning margin: eight shots.
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