ANTALYA, Turkey – When Justin Rose won the 2017 Turkish Airlines Open, he allowed that he’d always pined to have a “Hall of Fame” career and on Sunday on the same Regnum Carya course he won on last year, he took another step in that hallowed direction.
Although he wasn’t perfect to finish his week in Turkey, forfeiting a two-stroke lead with bogeys at his final two holes, he was good enough to check off another box on his career “to do” list, successfully defending a title for the first time. That he also moved back to No. 1 in the World Ranking only made the celebration that much enjoyable.
“It’s taken me 20 years to defend a title, I guess. So that's great,” said Rose, who finished with a 68 to force a playoff against Haotong Li, which the Englishman won on the first extra hole. “I'm surprised it has taken this long to kind of achieve that. But maybe I joke, I haven't won that many times to have that many chances to defend but I'm getting up there, beginning to win regularly.”
Through Rose was his predictably steady self through 16 holes, going bogey free and 5 under for the day after starting the final turn three strokes behind Li, he appeared tentative over par putts at Nos. 17 and 18 to finish bogey-bogey.
In the playoff Rose laid back off the tee with a 5-wood like he did in regulation play but hit a 5-iron to 15 feet and two-putted for par and victory when Li three-putted for bogey from 13 feet.
Rose said that his caddie, Mark Fulcher, reminded him in the moment of the long iron he hit on the 72nd hole to win the 2013 U.S. Open. But while Rose is widely considered one of the game’s best ball-strikers, it’s been his dramatically improved putting this season that has propelled him to a new level.
After finishing the 2016-17 season on the PGA Tour 188th in putting from 4 to 8 feet, Rose climbed to fourth in that category in 2018 thanks to his work with putting guru Phil Kenyon.
“He is brilliant to work for because he is fully and totally engaged. He will push you and prod you all the way. He’s a model student,” Kenyon said. “Towards the end of last year through the FedExCup we felt like he was getting everything. The results weren’t showing as far as strokes gained, but he was really close and just needed to get some confidence.”
For Rose his victory in Turkey is another solid finish during a string of consistency that includes 24 top-10 finish worldwide in his last 31 starts and nearly as many wins (five) as finishes outside the top-10 worldwide (seven).
It’s a testament to Rose’s consistency that he moves into the top spot in the World Ranking, an accomplishment that is normally the result of a collection of tournament wins, with just two victories (the Turkish Airlines Open and the Fort Worth Invitational) in 2018.
The victory also put Rose in the hunt for the Race to Dubai title, moving him to third on the list behind front-runner Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. Because of Molinari’s sizable lead in the standings the only way Rose can overtake the Italian is if he were to play the season’s penultimate event next week in South Africa, but that doesn’t seem likely.
“There are things that I need to kind of get figured out,” said Rose, who could become just the second player to win both the FedExCup and Race to Dubai titles in the same season. “It's a huge achievement. If I'm able to win it, realistically, then it's something that I've always said I think I should do. I don't know how far I am behind Francesco.”
But even without the transatlantic title sweep Rose did allow himself the luxury of savoring the moment. This was different than when he took over the top spot in the World Ranking with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship in September, an accomplishment he called bitter sweet. This time it was only sweet.
“I've had some pressure-packed Sundays of late. Dare I say, kind of coming way with consolation prizes in a way,” Rose admitted. “World No. 1 after losing in a playoff [at the BMW], finishing fourth [at the Tour Championship] but winning the FedExCup. Not having that winning feeling in a tournament but still coming away with accolades.
“I was keenly aware I wanted to get back in the winner's circle and it was good to get it done today.”
Rose is also aware that this victory in Turkey is another step toward becoming that “Hall of Fame” player he’s always dreamed of being.