DUBLIN, Ohio – Justin Rose was looking at a birdie putt on the 16th green while holding a two-stroke lead in the final round of the Memorial Tournament. Then a thunderous roar came from the nearby 15th hole.
Ahh, Rose thought, Rickie Fowler made an eagle and we’re all tied.
Except he had the wrong Ricky.
Spurred by that little scare, Rose rolled in his 13-foot birdie putt for some added breathing room, shooting a closing 6-under 66 to win the Memorial by three strokes.
“That sounded like an eagle roar to me,” Rose said. “So I thought, OK, here we go. This is all dead even. So I knew the putt at 16 was key.”
Rose, who finished at 18-under 270 to collect the $1,080,000 first prize, isn’t known to be demonstrative. But he was so pumped up by the birdie putt that he pumped his fist in celebration.
“I just felt like it swung the momentum back my way,” he said.
Actually, it was Ricky Barnes who holed an 87-yard wedge shot for the eagle at 15, not his rookie playing partner, Fowler. Fowler had led the Memorial by himself after the second and third rounds and began the day with a three-stroke cushion on Barnes and Tim Petrovic, with Rose four shots back.
Fowler was in or tied for the lead most of the day. Barnes, coming off a brilliant 62 in the third round, fell back with a double-bogey at the par-5 7th and never recovered, wilting to a 73.
That left Rose as Fowler’s closest pursuer. He birdied four of the last five holes on the front nine to pull within a shot.
Fowler, second at Phoenix and itching for his first career PGA Tour victory, bogeyed the uphill 10th to fall into a tie with Rose.
Then came the most pivotal shot of the tournament. In swirling winds, Fowler tried to feather a 5 iron into the narrow green on the famous water hole, the par-3 12th, at Muirfield Village.
“I was just trying to aim it at the back bunker and cut it off a little bit there,” he said. “The ball started going where I wasn’t trying to (hit it). I just made a bad swing – and paid for it.”
Fowler’s shot bounded off a bank and into the lake for a double-bogey, providing Rose all the opening he needed. Fowler finished with a 73 to stand alone in second.
Now clear of the field by two shots, Rose played keepaway with four straight pars. He birdied the difficult 14th and then rolled in the birdie at the 16th and was able to play for the middle of the greens on the final two holes to capture his first PGA Tour victory in his 162nd career start.
“It’s a week where I really stayed the most patient, the most within myself, and the most calm,” he said. “It’s a great way to win. And to win here at the Memorial, at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament – I couldn’t think of a better place to win my first tournament. It’s a great day.”
Rose, who’ll turn 30 next month, is far removed from the callow amateur who was marked for greatness when he pitched in at the last hole to tie for fourth place in the 1998 British Open at Birkdale. He’s won seven times worldwide, including five of the six major tours. Still, he hadn’t won anywhere for more than two years.
“Until you win over here, you don’t feel like you’ve really achieved all you want to in the game,” Rose said. “But it’s about winning worldwide, too.”
Rose was greeted by his wife, Kate, and his 15 1/2 -month-old son, Leo, who clapped his hands as his father held him.
Nicklaus, the Memorial founder and host, came away impressed with what he saw from Rose.
“He never made any mistakes,” Nicklaus said of Rose. “He just played good, solid golf.”
Rose one-putted eight consecutive greens at one point in becoming the second consecutive Memorial winner to overcome a four-stroke deficit in the final round. Tiger Woods did it a year ago.
Barnes, who shot a closing 73, was at 276 along with Bo Van Pelt. Phil Mickelson, who double-bogeyed the 15th hole after taking a drop and then hitting a metal wood from black-topped pavement near the 17th fairway, was at 277 along with Ryan Moore and Petrovic. Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink were another shot back, with 2002 Memorial winner Jim Furyk at 279 along with 21-year-old sensation Rory McIlroy, making his first appearance at the tournament.
Woods, who has won the Memorial four times, had been off the previous three weeks because of a neck injury. He fought a balky driver and never got anything going, winding up tied for 19th at 282. He vowed to be ready for the U.S. Open in two weeks at Pebble Beach.
Rose was also looking ahead. He considered the victory just the start.
“I turned pro at 17 and now I’m 29; that’s 12 years,” he said. “I figure, OK, that’s the real learning phase. I hope to be moving into my prime for the next 10 years. I don’t know what happens after that. We’ll see. I’m very excited about 29 to 39.”