At one point on Sunday, while flying through the back nine, Shane Lowry turned to his caddie and wondered out loud whether something very special was brewing.
The Irishman teed off 90 minutes before the leaders but was back in the clubhouse right amongst them, having carded a 63 to leave him on 18-under par for the tournament.
One late Jon Rahm birdie denied him a crack at a play-off and a fourth-ever European Tour victory – though a 600,000 euro cheque, tying for second with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, made for a worthwhile consolation prize.
“That’s as good as I can play out there and to do it on the last day of the season is nice. I go away wishing I could have had a few more events, but that’s the way it is. I’m happy,” said the world No85.
“I actually felt in the hunt with a few holes to go. I said to (caddie) Dermot on the 15th that stranger things have happened, and if we can have a really hot finish here, you never know. I almost did. I had great chances on 16 and 17 but played them nicely, and under pressure too.”
Lowry has racked up the air miles between the PGA and European tours this season but is hoping a permanent American base can help kick-start his 2018 – and vault him into the Ryder Cup reckoning.
“I’ve played in America and I’ve played here and found it tough going back and forth,” Lowry admitted. “I felt really comfortable the last few months playing in Europe. I’m heading off to America in January again but we’re moving there this time so it should be a little easier next time, and I’m looking forward to that. This is going to give me loads of confidence going into my winter break.
“There’s only eight Ryder Cup spots up for grabs. The way I’m doing my schedule I’ve only got four spots to aim for really, so I’m up against it. But I’m going to do my best, I feel I’m good enough to be on the team so I just have to go ahead and make it.”
A clearly emotional Justin Rose admitted he “hit the wall” at a crucial stage to throw away not only victory at the DP World Tour Championship but the chance to win a second European Tour Order of Merit.
It has been 10 years since a 27-year-old Rose overtook Ernie Els and held off the challenge of defending champion Padraig Harrington to win the 2007 Order of Merit.
In this year’s Race to Dubai he was the one chasing, and for much of Sunday it looked as if the reigning Olympic champion would be the golden boy again as he hunted down long-time leader Tommy Fleetwood.
But three bogeys on a dramatic back nine saw him plummet down the standings as he eventually finished in a tie for fourth on -17 under as newly-crowned European Tour rookie of the year Jon Rahm triumphed at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Despite his meltdown, Rose would still have triumphed had he finished one shot better than his round of 70, seeing him post -2 under par for the day.
But after making the turn in 32, it all went wrong for the 2013 US Open champion, who self-destructed despite the fact Fleetwood endured his own horror show, posting a +2 over par 74 to finish tied 21st.
“I felt really good at the start, I’m not really sure where it came apart on the back nine. Sometimes momentum gets going the wrong way,” said a visibly distraught Rose who finished runner-up with 4,921,062 Race to Dubai points – 499,468 behind Fleetwood.
“I did hit the wall a bit today. The front nine was beautiful. I was playing great golf and I felt in complete control.
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) November 19, 2017
“The bogey at 12 seemed to slow all the momentum. From that point it was a bit of a grind. The other guys seemed to do what they needed to do down the stretch.
“It was tough to fight it out on the back nine, because I knew what was going on. I figured I had to get to 18 under. It wasn’t like I wasn’t comfortable. I felt good, it’s just those slight lapses that cost me today.
“I don’t want to critique it too much, I had a lot of good shots on the back nine, I just didn’t put it together, I didn’t score it. I can look back on a lot of things and be disappointed about.”
Rose looked like he would stroll to both the tournament and series win on the front nine as he took advantage of the par five second, holed a four-footer on the third, a 15-footer on the fifth and then a brilliant 25-foot putt down the hill on the seventh to turn with a one-shot lead.
A poor bunker shot on the 12th led to a bogey and left the door ajar, before more drama unfolded on the 14th.
Rose put his second in the water and while he recovered well to leave eight feet for par, he missed the putt and fell out of the lead both in the tournament and the Race to Dubai.
“I just feel I went a bit flat around the turn,” he added.
“I had opportunities around 10 and 11 and didn’t take those. I got a little bit out of my routine and a little distracted, had a poor shot on the 14th and then it was a struggle from there on in. The shots on 13 and 14 were the undoing.
“Going down 14 I thought I was still in it, I was going to win the tournament. I made a mistake there hitting the water and when you make a mistake like that it costs you so much at that stage of the tournament.”
Rose reserved praise for Fleetwood and Rahm.
He said: “Tommy, I’m pleased for him. He’s battled hard all year and put a good week in, in South Africa, and had a great couple of comeback rounds this week to fight back and deserve it. He’s been leading all year and it’s good for him to finish it off.
“I knew Jon was a dangerman today, he’s playing brilliant golf. I knew being one shot ahead you had to come out and shoot a good score. It wasn’t about coasting.”
The Spaniard held his nerve when others crumbled during a thrilling back nine at the DP World Tour Championship, clinching his third win of a superb rookie season just one week removed from his 23rd birthday.
Tommy Fleetwood, 26, finished eight shots behind Rahm’s 19-under par but profited from overnight leader Justin Rose’s meltdown to be anointed Race to Dubai winner as the European Tour’s best performer this year.
Though the signs are positive for Europe ahead of next September’s Ryder Cup there is no shortage of young talent across the pond either, as Brooks Koepka (25), Jordan Spieth (24) and Justin Thomas (24) won three of the four majors this season.
There is little threat of a confident Rahm being overwhelmed as a member of the youth movement.
“I think it’s happening more and more, you see what happened last year on the PGA Tour with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas who are 24 and between both of them they won 11 times which is something amazing,” said Rahm.
“I think it’s like the rise of the youngsters, it’s been a really fun year. We feed each other, seeing other people win we think ‘why can’t we?’
“In my case, I got it done in a year and I’m a really confident person so when I’m in this position I believe I can win.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 19, 2017
Of the frontrunners only Rahm posted a bogey-free round of five-under par at Earth course on Sunday. A birdie on the 16th separated him from a chasing pack including South Africans Dylan Frittelli and Dean Burmester, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and early finisher Shane Lowry.
The round spoke of the steely resolve that has helped him come so far since turning professional 18 months ago – and keep his bank manager happy with a further 1.2m euros.
But with Rahm set up life, he measures his currency in victories and is eager to be first past the finish post in next year’s Race to Dubai.
“I’m a really ambitious person, this is my first year though I know it’s going to be hard to top,” added the world No4, who already divides his time between the PGA and European tours.
“Hopefully I can keep playing like this and kick on again this year, maybe I can come out again and have a chance of winning the Race to Dubai.
“It’s tough to have played good all year and actually have no mathematical chance to win, so hopefully I can play better tournaments during the year and have a chance.
“To get it done the last week – I don’t know if it shows anybody else or not, but it does prove to myself that I belong to be here on the European Tour and on the PGA Tour.
“Hopefully it reinforces my position to be considered for the Ryder Cup next year.”
His compatriot Sergio Garcia made a stunning charge of his own on day four – stringing together four birdies in a row to start the round – but a bogey on the 18th snuffed out his chances.
The Masters champion, who alongside Fleetwood and Rose was the only other contender still in the Race to Dubai hunt at Jumeirah Golf Estates last week, insists he does not regret skipping the previous three tournaments.
“(My wife) Angela and I, we needed to do some things related to the baby, some check-ups and stuff that I wanted to be a part of,” said Garcia, whose round of 63 earned him a tie for fourth.
“I don’t regret it at all. “I don’t like to play too many tournaments in a row – we did what we thought was best.”
What an Amazing ending to Awesome year! Thank you to everyone who has been a part of it. Family, Friends, Fans, team, Sponsors, etc. Vamos! @adidasGolf @TaylorMadeGolf @isagenix @BighornGolfClub and ROLEX. pic.twitter.com/G41KxuDKgn
— Jon Rahm Rodriguez (@JonRahmpga) November 19, 2017