Justin Rose admitted to “playing for second” as he began the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China trailing World No.1 Dustin Johnson by eight shots. However, it was Rose who emerged victorious after Johnson failed to make a single birdie on Sunday, earning the American an unwanted place in the record books.
Johnson appeared set to add a third World Golf Championship title to his 2017 haul having reached 17 under par through three rounds at Sheshan International. But his opening back-to-back bogeys would prove a sign of things to come on the final day.
In tough conditions the American made the turn in 2-over, with his six shot lead cut to three. The back nine wasn’t much kinder to the 33-year-old, who added three more bogeys to sign for a final round 77 and fall back into a tie for second with fellow major champions Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson.
“… even making the turn obviously, I'm 2-over, which is fine. I know I've got to just play solid on the back nine. I didn't make any putts,” Johnson said.
Rose’s final round was a tale of two nines. Turning in even par the Englishman found his best golf of the week on the back nine on Sunday, ,making five birdies for a 5 under par round of 67.
“It was the perfect type of weather conditions to make a comeback,” Rose said. “This is the type of day, when you are playing with a lead, every hole seems difficult. Obviously someone is still capable of playing a special round of golf.”
And obviously my back nine was just amazing today. It was one of the best back nines I've played in a long, long time, and to do it at the right time was amazing.”
The 37-year-old’s birdie at the par-5 14th was his third in four holes and the site of a change in the Englishman’s mindset regarding where he stood in the tournament.
“That's when I saw a leaderboard and I was within two, and then when I was within two, you kind of figure you have a chance,” he said.
Another birdie at the par-4 16th was quickly followed by a two at the difficult par-3 17th hole, where Rose perfectly judged a 5-iron into the wind. Finishing his round with a par 5 at the 18th hole and a 14 under par total.
Stenson reached a tie for the lead as he stood on the 17th tee playing alongside Johnson and Koepka in the final group. The Swede misjudged the wind, however, coming up short of the green and bogeying the hole to end his chances.
Rose waited as Johnson rolled the dice one last time at the par-5 finishing hole, where an eagle would match the Englishman’s score. It wasn’t to be, with Johnson’s second finding the water. Earning him a place alongside Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia as holders of the unenviable record of having lost the largest final round lead on the PGA Tour.
The ultra-consistent Rose has now claimed a victory every year since 2010, including his 2016 Olympic Gold Medal. And the WGC-HSBC Champions is the 37-year-old’s eighth PGA Tour victory and second World Golf Championship title.
“… whenever you beat the top players in the world, that gives a tournament victory so much more meaning, and obviously with a leaderboard like we had today with Dustin, Brooks, Stenson, I take a lot of pride in winning this tournament,” Rose said.
Jason Day was the best of the Australians after firing a 68 in the final round that was the Aussie’s best round of the week and the second lowest of the final day behind Rose and Phil Mickelson.