DORAL, Fla. – On a day of endless drama at Doral, Justin Rose won his first World Golf Championship standing on the practice range.
Rose had to make up a three-shot deficit against Bubba Watson, and then a two-shot deficit against Keegan Bradley. Rose was steady down the stretch, even with a bogey from the bunker on the 18th hole, and closed with a 2-under 70 to win the Cadillac Championship.
Watson, as always, made it interesting. He hit a bullet of a 4-iron out of the palm trees to just inside 10 feet for a chance to force a playoff. His birdie putt missed on the low side, ending a wild day even by his standards. He closed with a 74.
If that wasn’t enough, Tiger Woods muddied his Masters future when he left after 11 holes with soreness in his left Achilles tendon, wincing badly on his final shot – a 321-yard drive down the middle of the 12th fairway.
Woods said he would have it evaluated to determine the scope of the injury.
NBC Sports showed images of Woods behind the wheel in a black sedan as he drove away from Doral. It returned to golf just as Rory McIlroy, who started the final round eight shots behind, holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 12th hole.
McIlroy pulled within one shot of the lead with a birdie on the 16th hole, but he closed with a bogey and a 67 to finish alone in third.
Through it all, Rose worked his way to the top of the leaderboard with a nifty up-and-down behind the green on the par-5 10th, and he seized control of the tournament with a shot into 5 feet for birdie on the 14th.
Rose finished on 16-under 272 for his 10th victory worldwide, moving him back into the top 10 of a world ranking that remains loaded with Europeans.
It was a day that left little doubt about McIlroy’s spot atop the world ranking. Just like Woods in previous years, McIlroy showed he could never be counted out with an array of splendid shots – most of them from precarious spots in the bunker – and threatened to win.
And it raised more questions about the future of Woods.
This is the same Achilles tendon he injured a year ago at the Masters while hitting a shot from under Eisenhower’s tree on the 17th hole of the third round. It wound up forcing Woods to miss three months and two majors next year.
This time, he was lifting his left leg and flexing his angle, even after changing his shoes at the turn. The limp became more pronounced until he blasted his tee shot on the 12th, shook hands with Webb Simpson and rode off in a cart.
“I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning, and it continued to get progressively worse,” Woods said in a statement. “After hitting my tee shot at 12, I decided it was necessary to withdraw. In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time, I decided to do what I thought was necessary.”
Rose was oblivious to all this.
He opened with two birdies through four holes, which was enough to catch Watson, who looked out of sorts all day.
Watson didn’t hit a fairway on the front nine, and only one tee shot managed to stay inside the bunkers that frame the fairways. He was in the water twice, once in a canal on the fifth hole that not many knew were there. He shot a 39 on the front nine, which included three putts outside 8 feet to limit the damage.
It was like watching NASCAR. Watson would have looked more comfortable in his General Lee stock car he recently bought.
What was he thinking?
“I’m thinking I’m not playing very good,” Watson said.
Still, he showed remarkable resiliency to give himself a chance at the end.
Watson wasn’t the only player who faltered. Bradley opened with an eagle, tied for the lead with a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the fifth, then rolled in a 12-foot birdie at No. 7 that gave him a two-shot lead.
Bradley came undone with bogeys on the par 5s, even though he was around the green with his second shot on both of them. On No. 8, his ball buried so deep in the grass behind the green – he called for a ruling to see if it had plugged – that he purposely played 20 feet away from the flag, knowing it would roll off the green. He failed to get up-and-down.
Then, he three-putted from about 6 feet on the par-5 10th, turning a birdie chance into bogey.
Bradley dropped four shots over the last four holes, including a double bogey on the 18th for a 75. He went from leading at the turn to a tie for eighth with a 41 on the back nine.
“I didn’t play that bad,” Bradley said. “Just some really strange putts, and then I just kind of limped in.”
Rose was the last man standing. Throughout the back nine, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy and even Luke Donald for a brief moment all looked to be poised for a run.
Rose never came seriously close to a bogey on the back nine until his approach landed in the back bunker, and he blasted out through the green and just off the edge. He chipped to tap-in range for a bogey, dropping his lead down to one shot. Then, he headed to practice range to see if Watson could catch him.