This season’s European No 1 will definitely be an Englishman, but it’s no longer certain if it will be the long-time leader, Tommy Fleetwood. After back-to-back wins, Justin Rose is now breathing down his compatriot’s neck with two events to go.
It was vintage Rose as the 37-year-old followed up coming from eight shots behind world No 1 Dustin Johnston to claim the WGC-HSBC Champions in China the previous week with an equally impressive victory in the Turkish Airlines Open in Belek.
He was nine shots behind Nicolas Colsaerts at the halfway stage but produced stunning closing efforts of 64 and 65 on the Regnum Carya course to come out on top with an 18-under-par 266 total in the $7 million Final Series/Rolex Series event.
On a day when five players shared the lead early on the back nine, Rose rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the last green, having also picked up shots at the 15th and 16th in a telling late burst, before watching Colsaerts miss from slightly closer to force a play-off.
“It is incredibly sweet,” said Rose after chalking up back-to-back title triumphs for the second time in his career. “That was also a bit unique for me to make a putt that really counted in a situation like that because most of the times I’ve won I’ve had two putts for it on the last green.”
In converting this one, he finished a shot ahead of both Colsaerts (66) and South African Dylan Fritelli, who had stormed into contention with a burst of five straight birdies from the fourth before finishing with a birdie to set the clubhouse target after a closing 64. Padraig Harrington, who needed to eagle the last to force a play-off and gave it a go with a shot from 203 yards that was right on target before coming up short of the hole, finished fourth on 15-under, a shot ahead of defending champion Thorbjorn Olesen.
Rose picked up a cheque for £878,417, taking his earnings for two weeks’ work to more than £2.1 million. “I was very happy the way I was able to close it out,” added the former US Open and Scottish Open champion. “A lot of people were making a run, but no one was going anywhere. There seemed to be a bit of a logjam at 14 and 15.
“My caddie said to me on the 16th tee, ‘trust out experience, you don’t have to do as much to win as you think you do’. But the way it turned out today you had to. It really took a special putt on the last to win this one. My mind went back to the 18th at Augusta [when he had a putt from a similar length to win the Masters but missed it and then lost in a play-off to Sergio Garcia].”
Fleetwood’s lead of more than a million points in the Race to Dubai has now been reduced to just 135,000. However, he is playing in both the remaining events – the Nebank Challenge in South Africa then the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai – whereas Rose is sitting out the first of those.
“Very exciting,” said Rose of the finale. “It’s an interesting situation and, though I have given myself a lot to think about over next week, I still don’t think I’m going to do it [play in the Nedbank]. I’m going to trust myself in Dubai and just go there as I planned. I know I’m handing Tommy an advantage, but at least I’m close enough to Tommy now to be able to finish it by winning in Dubai, even if Tommy is second.”
Fleetwood closed with rounds of 67 and 68 to finish joint-27th on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and was pleased to be bogey-free over the weekend. “Last week and this week, I’ve just lacked momentum, really,” said the former Scottish Open Stroke-Play champion. “I think at this point in the year it is so easy to get frustrated because it’s the end of of a long year.
“But I feel quite fresh and I think mentally here I was just very good at just plodding on, staying patient and keeping going. Justin has played great golf to go back-to-back and I’m not going to hold that against him. I’ve had my patches in the year. I’ve still got two events to go and, at the end of the day, nothing is ever going to get given to you. I’ve got to go out and earn it in the last couple of events.”
Stephen Gallacher slipped nine spots to finish joint-16th after a level-par 71 on a day when just about everyone went low on a rain-softened course. He was still happy, though, with his first week’s work with a new grip. “I hit one poor shot today, finding the water with a 7-iron for my second at the par-5 15th, and didn’t putt well yet still shot level. Before, when that was happening, I’d maybe shoot 79. So I’m delighted to shoot 71 in that situation,” he said.
Richie Ramsay, the leading Scot in the Race to Dubai, got up and down from almost exactly the same spot as Gallacher to save par at the last. “I was thinking to myself as I stood over that shot, this will be two beers on the charter flight to South Africa if I hole it and ten if I don’t,” he said, laughing, after also closing with a 71 for a share of 27th spot.