Entering the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions, Justin Rose trailed leader Dustin Johnson by a distant eight shots. Like the rest of the field, he was playing for second, and most had already handed the trophy to the world No.1 in what would have been the 17th win of his career.
Yet when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys on his opening two holes, it was game on. And despite still trailing by six heading to the back nine, Rose took advantage, posting a five-under 67 to come all the way back and win at 14-under 274, two shots clear of Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Johnson.
The eight-stroke 54-hole deficit was the third largest final-round comeback in US PGA Tour history, while Johnson became only the third player in the circuit’s history to cough up a six-shot lead on the final day.
Rose, 37, made birdies at the second and third holes to chip away at DJ’s lead, but then bogeyed three of the last four holes on the front nine to post an even-par 36. If coming back was an already difficult task, the Englishman made it nearly impossible at that point. But somehow he regrouped, quickly making birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th to get back into contention.
“I kind of told myself I was four down, playing the golf course, so I kind of played match play against the golf course coming in,” Rose said. “I didn’t know if 13 [under] was going to be good enough, I kind of figured I was playing for second or so, and I kind of thought 13 was going to be an important number to get to for that.”
He got to 13-under with birdies at the par-5 14th and the par-4 16th, then stepped to the tee at the par-3 17th and closed the door, sticking his 194-metre tee shot to tap-in range to get to 14-under. Meanwhile, Johnson continued to stumble, making bogeys at the 12th, 15th and 16th and not making a single birdie the entire day. His five-over 77 opened the door to everyone, and it was Rose who seized the opportunity for his eighth career US Tour victory.
"Stop looking at me, swan!"
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 29, 2017
“I saw DJ get back to about 14 or 15 [-under] and then the game was on you know, so it was certainly exciting coming down the stretch, but basically I played matchplay with the course,” said Rose.
The matchplay strategy paid off, giving Rose his second career WGC victory, the first coming at the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
“To win a WGC, is just amazing,” he said. “Obviously, they count for so much on both tours, when you’re a guy playing both tours. It’s just an incredible start to my 2018 PGA Tour campaign, and obviously this gives me a real shot in the Race to Dubai as well.”
Not including his 2016 Olympic Gold medal, it’s Rose’s first win of any kind since the 2015 Hong Kong Open, and his first US Tour victory since the 2015 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Coming in at 12-under 276 in a tie for second with Johnson were Stenson and opening-round leader Koepka, who each had their respective chances to sneak up on the world No.1. Stenson, who played in the final group, made three birdies and a bogey to get to 12-under with six holes to play. He gave himself a great chance to win after making another birdie at the par-4 16th, but dropped his second shot of the day at the next hole and finished with a two-under 70.
Koepka reached 13-under when he made his fourth birdie of the day at the par-5 14th, but also stumbled on his next hole, making a double-bogey 6 to drop back to even-par for the round. He made one more birdie at the 18th to card a final-round one-under 71.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, Kyle Stanley and Peter Uihlein finished six behind at eight-under 280. In a lacklustre week for the Australian contingent, Jason Day finished as the best, sharing 11th place at five-under after a closing 68.