It’s not even April and we’ve already seen our fair share of drama on Sundays in 2012. While the commotion caused by Tiger Woods’ unexpected withdrawal distracted the focus from the actual golf, the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship wasn’t lacking in excitement. In the end, Justin Rose, one of the real good guys out here, won his first World Golf Championship, not to mention his second marquee event in six months, making up a three-shot deficit to Bubba Watson at the start of the day.
Though he shot two-under 70, Rose didn’t play the best golf of his life, but he hung on, stayed steady and survived. In other words, he didn’t make any massive mistakes or big numbers, like the others in contention. He rolled in a fair share of clutch putts, but also missed several opportunities. For the most part, Rose played pretty boring golf, which is actually a compliment.
“I said on the range this morning that it was going to take a great round; obviously 70 is a great round in relative terms now,” said Rose in his post-round presser. “But it was all about controlling what I could control. I kind of knew I got into the lead; it’s hard to ignore it out there. But I knew I got into the lead around 14 when I made that birdie, and from there I knew it was just a matter of closing it out.”
Rose, who struggled with securing that first Tour victory, had blown his fair share of tournaments before getting the gorilla off his back at the 2010 Memorial Tournament (and followed it with another win just a few months later at the 2010 AT&T National). Now, with four titles under his belt in the last two years, he’s no longer nervous in contention and he’s managed to stay calm and composed.
“I’ve learned the hard way a little bit,” he said. I’ve certainly had my chances in the past, as well. It’s kind of nice to get a little bit of momentum and confidence going. I think it’s probably a confidence thing. When I do get into contention now, I believe I can go ahead and close it out.
From the trees on the right rough of 18 fairway, with water guarding the green, Rose launched a hybrid into the grandstands — you know, the good ol’ the backboard trick. Smart move. He easily made bogey, which appeared like it was good for the win, but it was a little premature (and could have been rather embarrassing).
“I figured if I can just get it up, hit it at the pin and just cut it right, I was pretty comfortable from the bunkers or from over the back of the green that I could make four, stroke five.,” he said, referring to his second shot on 18. “When I dropped the ball, obviously it disappears into the bottom of the bermuda and I have to dig it out a little bit, but the rest was history. It was good enough.”
Meanwhile, Bubba Watson was erratic off the tee and hit drives so far off the map that it was almost out of ShotLink’s range (okay, slight exaggeration, but it was awful). He knocked it in the water twice on the front nine and missed several short putts. His lead quickly dwindled, and for a while, it looked like Keegan Bradley, who was playing alongside him in the final group, would pull away with the victory.
Bradley opened with an eagle on the par-5 No. 1, and then tied the lead after throwing a dart on the par-4 No. 5 for a kick-in birdie. He rolled in another birdie on No. 7 before things began to unravel on the par-5 No. 8, where he four-putted from the fringe.
Rory McIlroy, the world No. 1, was also in the mix (again). He holed out from the bunker for eagle on the par-5 12th. His run was halted when he made a few mistakes coming down the stretch with bogeys on Nos. 14 and 18.
“I’s very positive, putting yourself in contention to win so many times, you can take a lot from it,” said McIlroy, who ascended to the top of the world rankings after winning the Honda Classic last week. “You don’t look at it as it’s a better feeling of finishing 15th and never really having a chance, because you feel like you could have won.
“I’ll look back on it tomorrow and look back at what a good weekend it was, and at least starting the day, eight shots behind, even to just give myself a chance to win was a pretty good effort. I just couldn’t close it out the way I wanted to.”
Just when it looked like Rose had locked down the trophy, Bubba, naturally, made things entertaining. From the right rough on 18, he hit an incredible 4-iron through the trees to nine feet for the opportunity to birdie and force a playoff.
“I kind of celebrated like I had won it because I heard the crowd and the people from the grandstands shouting, Bubba has hit in the water on 18 and so I’m like, okay, all good,” said Rose, who reacted by holding his head in disbelief with an expression that conveyed “oh sh*t”! “From that perspective, when I tapped in, I figured it was to win. Then I hear he wasn’t in the water when I got to the scorer’s hut and he hits it to nine feet and I’m kind of thinking, that was all a bit premature.”
Rose immediately headed to the driving range, assuming Bubba would make the putt. He stopped in the middle of his swing after hearing the groans from the fans on 18 when Bubba missed.
“It’s a weird way to win a golf tournament when you’re waiting on somebody else to make a mistake, but obviously you just have to celebrate the fact that you did what was good enough,” said the Englishman who lives in Orlando full-time (sold his flat in London last year).
Best “hug-me-now” moment of the day may have been during Rose’s press conference. Apparently, Rose, who is very eloquent and polite, wasn’t always so well-behaved. Much to his dismay, his son Leo stole the spotlight for a few minutes during the presser. The three-year-old cried out for the microphone and started throwing a mini-tantrum — which was actually kind of adorable.
Asked jokingly if Leo had inherited this behavior from his dad or his mom, a flustered Rose said, “This is me, I’m afraid.”
Well, good news is Justin turned out just fine.
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)