Rose's victory a culmination of effort
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- Justin Rose calmly rapped in a short par putt to clinch the victory on the final hole at Aronimink Golf Club and celebrated not with a whoop and a holler, not with a manly embrace with his caddie, but with a simple, unexaggerated fist pump that appeared more internal exaltation than one for the gallery and cameras.
It was the type of confident self-commendation more often enjoyed by the greats of the game than by a player who has just earned his second career PGA Tour title, but Rose is on the precipice of such accolades, if not there already.
Consider it ironic that a game largely devoid of parity over the past decade because of the prominence of Tiger Woods is being strapped with that delineation once again, with Rose prevailing at the event where the world's No. 1-ranked player once served as host.
While the 71-time champion looked utterly human once again at the AT&T National, Rose posted rounds of 69-64-67-70 to claim his second win in the past month and continue his current reign as the game's hottest golfer.
"I think it's a fact," Rose said of that characterization. "I mean, I don't look at it any other way. I played great. It's nice to know it's possible."
To understand the importance of Rose's victory, we need to look back. Back to last week, when he led or shared the lead after each of the first three rounds of the Travelers Championship -- including a 3-stroke advantage entering the final stanza -- only to post a final-round 5-over 75 to finish in a share of ninth place.
That week-old struggle wasn't very far removed from the thought process during this one.
"How 'bout that Sunday collapse?" Rose's caddie, Mark Fulcher, bellowed rhetorically just minutes after his man two-putted the final green for a par clincher.
"I knew having not closed out last week, it was important for me, just for myself, to do it today," Rose confided. "I felt like I really did put into play the lessons I learned at Hartford. I played much slower, and I really felt calm. I didn't feel like the nerves got the better of me at all the whole weekend. So [I] was much better at that."
To really understand the importance of Rose's victory, we need to look even further back. Back to last month, when he trailed by 4 strokes entering the final round of the Memorial Tournament but came from behind to fire a 6-under 66 and claim his first career professional victory on U.S. soil.
It was a win that inspired confidence in the seven-year PGA Tour veteran from England, one that was a long time coming. After all, he had previously posted eight career top-three finishes without finding the winner's circle, all while watching countrymen of a similar age such as Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey prevail.
It was that win, though, that likely took away most of the nerves this Sunday. With his initial foray into such territory already having taken place four weeks earlier, the prospect of a second title wasn't nearly as daunting.
"I don't know if it's going to change anything," Rose's wife, Kate, said minutes after the AT&T victory, their 16-month-old toddler, Leo, nipping at her heels. "Maybe I'll have a more confident husband on Sundays, and that's always a good thing. But no, as a family, at home, it won't change anything."
AT&T National Leaderboard
1. Rose (-10)
2. Moore (-9)
3. Overton (-8)
4. Wi (-7)
5. Holmes (-6)
To completely grasp the importance of Rose's victory, though, we need to look even further back than that. Back to the 2005 Open Championship, where he was first alternate but never reached the field. He refers to that tournament at St. Andrews -- along with the one at that venue that he missed in 2000 -- as his "Bogey Open."
Not only did he fail to qualify but he was left watching, as he said, "all your friends and guys that you know you're every bit as good as teeing it up and getting all prepared for the tournament."
With his most recent win, however, the 29-year-old won't feel the sting of a three-peat at the Old Course, instead cementing his place in the field two weeks from now.
"It's a place I love," he said. "How can you not love St. Andrews? You've just got to stand on the first tee there and you feel like you're part of something special. To do it in an Open is something very special. That's been my goal for the last few weeks so I'm glad I've changed the trend."
But if we really want to understand the importance of Rose's victory, we need to look back almost a dozen years. Back to the 1998 Open Championship, when, as a 17-year-old amateur, he chipped in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale to procure a share of fourth place.
Upon turning pro just a few days later, he missed more cuts than a Swiss cheese Band-Aid, failing to cash a check in 21 consecutive events.
"It felt like every time I had a chance to make a cut, cameras would appear out of the trees and suddenly I would feel the heat," Rose recalled. "That's how I perceived it. I felt like there was that pressure on me. So playing under that pressure to make cuts when you're not playing well, that was hard.
"Playing under this sort of pressure when you're playing well is exciting. It's butterflies and it's a buzz. It's something you've really [got] to embrace and enjoy. But it does seem like a lifetime ago now, I've got to tell you. I feel like I've had two or three careers. I feel like I'm two or three different people, I really do. You know, the young kid, and then the journeyman, and then the working my way back to being the player I wanted to be in the first place."
It was that man -- the one who has made a full-circle transformation in his career -- we witnessed enjoying such a modest celebration on the final hole at Aronimink. Without understanding his entire story, it appeared to lack the excitement and enthusiasm of other such conquests. It was years in the making, though, and now that Justin Rose is fulfilling his potential, it could become a more common occurrence on Sunday afternoons.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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