It won’t matter in the slightest to Rose, who held that mantle for just one week earlier in the season, that he regained it in, ultimately at least, somewhat ugly fashion. The 38-year-old finished bogey-bogey as he closed with a 68 to end up tied for top spot on 17-under-par with China’s Haotong Li who also took 5 at the last in his 71.
Li had come out on top against Rory McIlroy in a similar two-horse race on the back nine to claim the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the year. The 23-year-old set up a great chance to claim another big scalp after hitting his approach to 12 feet at the first play-off hole – the 18th – only to three-putt, missing from three feet to extend the shoot-out.
It was Rose’s 12th European Tour triumph. He has recorded five victories worldwide in just over a year. In that same time, the Olympic champion has chalked up 20 top-10 finishes in 27 events. He also won the FedEx Cup. That world No 1 title might be about to change hands a fair bit in the next few years, but Koepka, Dustin Johnson & Co face a fight to get it back with Rose in this sort of form.
“It’s taken me 20 years to defend a title and that’s nice,” he admitted, having earned a place in the record books by doing so as the first player to achieve the feat in a Rolex Series event. “I’m beginning to win regularly, which is fun, though this was almost a rejuvenating week for me in some ways.”
First time around Rose became the game’s top-ranked player after losing in a play-off to Keegan Bradley in the BMW Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s Play-Off events. “I was so mad not winning on that occasion, but this time I’ve got a double winning feeling, so it is much better,” he admitted. “I wanted to get back in the winner’s circle and, while it would be good to sit down for my Christmas turkey dinner as world No 1, I’m not going to stress about it.”
Rose had started the day trailing Li, his Excel Sports stablemate, by three shots before four birdies in eight holes from the seventh earned him a two-shot lead. Li moved level with an eagle-3 at the 15th, where his shaped approach around a tree from the left edge of the fairway ended up just over two feet away. Rose responded with a birdie at the next and, though he would have preferred to have closed wit two pars rather than those brace of bogeys, it was mission accomplished in the end. “Though I was trying to win, I could not help rooting for him and felt bad for him at the end. It was tense down the stretch,” said Rose, who is up to third in the Race to Dubai behind Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood.
Russell Knox dropped two spots to 14th after two bogeys in the last five holes left him in joint 23rd place after being inside the top 10 as he stood three-under for the day on the 14th tee. “I had loads of opportunities but just wasn’t able to make the putts. I then had a finish when nothing happened,” he said after a closing 70.
Stephen Gallacher saved his best for last, signing off with a 66, sealing his place in the penultimate event of the season, the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, by claiming a share of 35th spot on six-under, three behind Knox. “I felt the game was coming. Just a wee bit later than I wanted, but it was good today,” he said. “I’m one good week away from getting into Dubai as well. That’s the goal and I will be going to Sun City with a bit of a spring in my step.”