Justin Rose overcomes early mistake to win Congressional in playoff
Justin Rose has won enough times on the strongest golf courses to appreciate how one mistake can make a difference.
He got away with one Sunday at Congressional to win the Quicken Loans National.
Shawn Stefani did not.
With the poise and the putting touch of a U.S. Open champion, Rose atoned for a 4-iron he hit into the water on the 18th hole to make a 15-foot bogey putt that got him into a playoff and gave him new life. On the 18th hole in the playoff, Stefani hit the same type of shot that rolled into the same pond left of the green.
There are no second chances in a sudden-death playoff.
Rose won with a par on the first extra hole for his first victory since the U.S. Open last summer at Merion. This one required about as much work, with Congressional far more difficult and unrelenting than when it hosted a soggy U.S. Open three years ago.
"Congressional got its reputation back after the U.S. Open," Rose said. "I really enjoy this type of golf and this type of test. I think it tested all of us. I’m delighted."
The Englishman was far from delighted after thinking he had thrown this one away.
Tied for the lead as he played the 18th, Rose tried to squeeze a 4-iron through a tiny gap in the trees from 209 yards away, playing toward the right side of the green for a chance at par. Instead, he turned it over and realized when he jogged toward the fairway that it was headed for the water.
His caddie, Mark Fulcher, told Rose that Stefani had just made bogey behind them on the 17th.
"Everything else was forgotten at that point," Rose said. "I wiped the slate clean and just focused on my putt on 18. An amazing feeling in any sort of championship when you make a putt like that. That means something. That’s special.
"And then the playoff, it was just up to me to not do what I did the first time around."
He left that to Stefani, who had drilled his tee shot in regulation and narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt for his first PGA Tour victory. In the playoff, Stefani pulled his tee shot in the trees and got relief from grandstands blocking his view of the green. He chose a 6-iron to punch it around the trees.
"The grass closed the club down," Stefani said, "and it went left into the water. I was trying to play it down the right side and have a chance at a putt, two putts for a par. That’s the way it goes. It was great to have a chance to win."
Both closed with a 1-under 70 and finished at 4-under 280 on a course that looked like a U.S. Open, and played like one the way so many contenders — seven players had at least a share of the lead at one point — tumbled down the leaderboard.
Only six players broke par in the final round. And it was only the second time this year that the winning score was higher than the 36-hole lead (6 under). That also happened at Torrey Pines, which like Congressional, previously hosted a U.S. Open.
No one crashed harder than Patrick Reed, who had a two-shot lead to start the final round, still had a two-shot lead at the turn and didn’t even finish in the top 10. He made back-to-back double bogeys, shot 41 on the back and closed with a 77 to tie for 11th.
"This definitely burns and definitely gets me more fired up for more events coming up," Reed said.
Even though he got a reprieve with the clutch bogey putt, Rose looked like a U.S. Open champion the way he put himself into position. He hit 5-iron to 5 feet for one of only four birdies on the 11th hole Sunday. Staring at potential bogey from deep rough on the 14th, he boldly hit 3-wood up the hill and between the deep bunkers to the middle of the green. It was a par, but Rose called the 3-wood his "shot of the day."
And before his blunder on the 18th, he holed an 8-foot sliding par putt on the 17th.
"I felt like all aspects of my game were tested this week, and it’s really nice to win in that fashion," Rose said.
Stefani, whose only major experience was at Merion last year, plodded along like a U.S. Open veteran with one par after another. He joined Rose in the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th.
So many others fell back.
Brendon Todd was tied for the lead until a double bogey in the water on the 10th. Marc Leishman three-putted for bogey on No. 7 and made bogey on the easiest par 4 at Congressional. Brendan Steele made a late rally, only to take on too much from the rough on the 18th and find the water for double bogey.
This was the first British Open qualifier on the PGA Tour — the leading four players not already exempt from the top 12 at Congressional get into Royal Liverpool next month.
Stefani earned one spot as the runner-up. Charley Hoffman (69) and Ben Martin (71) each birdied two of the last three holes to tie for third. Steele got the last spot with a 71 that put him in a three-way tie for third with Andres Romero and Todd, who already is exempt. Steele earned the spot over Romero because he has a higher world ranking. Romero closed with a 68, the low score in a final round when the scoring average was 73.7.