ATLANTA—"Justin Rose beats Tiger Woods" is not a headline you're going to see splattered across the Internet. Woods, by almost every sense known to man, was the victor at East Lake on Sunday. That includes the leader board, where Woods' 71 bested Rose's 73, the latter finishing five shots back of the former overall in the Tour Championship.
But there is one accounting system that declares Rose a winner: the FedEx Cup points system. Considering its $10 million payout, it's a mighty-important system.
"Yeah, it was awkward out there, really, today," Rose said. "It was a situation that I'd never really been in before."
Not that he should apologize. In theory, the FedEx Cup is designed to rewarded season-long excellence, a billing that certainly fits Rose. The Englishman has been a consistent tour de force during the 2017-'18 season, recording two wins, three runner-ups and 11 top-10 finishes in just 18 starts. It's been a long journey from the 18-year-old who missed 20-plus consecutive starts to No. 1 in the world. A journey, and the inherent struggles it suggests, that have made Rose the consummate professional, on and off the course.
"The game came easy to me as a kid," Rose admitted. "And although I worked hard, yeah, winning was easy, golf was easy, and then I think I turned pro and I missed 21 cuts. And I think that kind of has kept me honest in the sense of that's kept me working hard and kept me never taking it for granted. I think that's maybe where that comes from.
"But, yeah, when I set my goals at the beginning part of the year, it's not so much I want to win six times and I want to win the FedExCup, it's more I want to look at this area of my game, this area of my game, and this area of my game and how much can I improve there. So I'm definitely more process-driven than the outcome."
How he got to Sunday night wasn't a storybook ending. Starting his day three back of Woods, Rose failed to surmount a charge on the front nine, making the turn in even par. Any aspirations of winning the tournament were done with a bogey at the 11th.
But then he bogeyed the 14th and 16th, and suddenly it looked like the FedEx Cup, and what it does for the bank account, were out the window. Considering the mayhem heard throughout the course, lesser players would have crumbled.
"It's very hard, obviously, but that will be something I'll look at and try to recreate next time there's a scenario like this, might help me in a major champion down the stretch, whatever it may be," Rose said of the situation. "I have a few mental tools I use, and I try to shift it from scoreboard and what the leader board was doing, and I just tried to shift it into how many quality shots could I hit coming down the stretch, and I kind of hoped that that would carry me over the line rather than stressing too much about the leaderboard."
He made par on 17, and hit the longest drive of the day when he needed it most on the final hole. With just 200 yards in, Rose's approach just sailed over the bunker, leaving 30 feet or so for eagle.
"I was kind of waiting for a break all day, waiting for a putt to drop or something good to happen, and it just wasn't really happening through the back nine," Rose said. "So it was nice to catch that break right at the end."
He hit a sensible lag, which is all he needed, raising his arms in the air. He tapped in for birdie, securing a T-4 finish, good enough to beat Woods in the FedEx Cup.
"That's PGA Tour royalty, if you win the FedEx Cup, that's sort of what it means," Rose said. "I was fortunate enough to win the 2007 European Tour Order of Merit, but there was nothing quite like the intensity of this with the playoff-style format back then. But whenever you win over the course of a season, it just gives it something extra, it gives it something special. It's very unique. And I wasn't able to win the tournament this week, but I was able to win the season, and that's something that maybe— there will be weeks—next week I'll have another opportunity to win a tournament.
Next week being the Ryder Cup, where Rose and Team Europe will try and prevent the Americans from winning on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years. But Sunday was about Woods and Rose, both who leave Atlanta with trophies in tow.
"This opportunity only presents itself if you play very, very good golf for a long period of time through the course of a season," Rose said. "I'm proud to have taken my chance this year."