All week Justin Rose has carried an air of superiority around Jumeirah Golf Estates. Not in an arrogant, boastful or boorish way, far from it, but every day when the world No6 stood on the first tee at the Earth course he gave the impression he knew he was the best golfer among the 60 of the European Tour’s finest gathered in Dubai.
An understated confidence, few sportspeople carry so naturally.
And along with his own self-belief in his ability, there was the experience and form to back it up.
Even in the pre-tournament press-conferences, the difference in tone between himself and Race to Dubai rivals Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia was marked.
Garcia was largely pessimistic, with good reason given his considerable points deficit against the backdrop of having to switch clubs on the eve of the tournament, while Fleetwood preached a happy-go-lucky, just-pleased-to-be-here type narrative, also with good reason considering his surprisingly outstanding year.
Rose was as fixed and focused in what he said as he was in his application on the course over the next three-and-a-half rounds.
Along with a video showing him on the practice range at 5am, there was an illuminating quote into his approach on Wednesday when he said: “I think I focus a lot more on the skill of putting rather than the technique. By that, I mean green reading, and then performance drills on the green.”
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) November 19, 2017
To watch Rose with his claw putter was at times like some kind of performance art mixed with his own brand of trigonometry.
Every golfer has their own individual routine and ritual in approaching shots but Rose’s appears truly unique. The 37-year-old would at times appear to pick out objects in the distance with his eyes, adjust his body accordingly, then place his hands in line with the hole, before tracing the line of the putt downwards in the air using two fingers.
And it worked. For it wasn’t his putter which let him down in a truly remarkable turn of events at the DP World Tour Championship.
As methodical, thorough and efficient as his golf had been for 65 holes, something happened on the back nine that will take some getting over. The previous 27 holes from 10-18 on Earth he was a combined 10-under. He had one solitary bogey in that span, on the 18th at the end of his second round.
The monster 626-yard 14th where he found water and scrambled for a six, he had birdied twice and eagled on day one.
Of all the players in the field, based on how he had played near flawlessly, his experience, manner and confidence around the course, Rose was the least likely to suffer such a blow-up. He claimed he “hit the wall” as he discussed his near miss – a result, if anything, contextually closer than his second placed finishes in 2012 and 2014.
Maybe the sheer intensity he had placed on himself began to take its toll mentally and subsequently physically? This was a tournament he desperately wanted to win. The man’s an Olympic and US Open champion, though, he’ll know better than anyone. He’ll also recognise that golf is a sport unlike any other to the extent that even the very best win more than they lose.
And in defeat he was as imperious as he had been around the winding route of Earth over the four days. Immediately congratulating Fleetwood, a man he could well have by his side at the Ryder Cup next year, with a warm embrace.
It wasn’t necessary politeness or empty platitudes, there was genuine pride for a young Englishman enjoying the best moment of his career to date.
And while it was Jon Rahm who ultimately proved the best player in Dubai, Rose has no reason to be dissuaded from his own self-assessment, as subjective as that is.
But what was clear was a tangible feeling that there is now something of the statesman about him. Setting examples for the younger generation of Rahm, Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and others, both in how he plays golf and his conduct off the course.
At the Ryder Cup next year he could prove to be Europe’s most important player, setting the tone for a clutch of European talent emerging taking on an outrageously-gifted American team.
A situation where more than sheer golfing ability will be required, and all his own qualities will need to be replicated by his
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) November 19, 2017
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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.”