DUBAI, U.A.E. — First, Justin rose. Then he fell. With seven holes to play in the DP World Tour Championship things were looking good for the 2013 U.S. Open champion. Four under par for the day and 19 under for the week, Rose led the European Tour’s season-ending tournament by two shots and, not incidentally, looked a sure thing to top the Race to Dubai—a.k.a. the money-list—which was the Order of Merit in 2007, the last time the 37-year-old Englishman was anointed Europe’s No. 1 player.
It was just about then, however, that the body of the man who had won his previous two European Tour events was apparently invaded by an alien being, one playing off a 5-handicap. Maybe 6.
Three bogeys in five holes quickly followed amidst a flurry of poor shots and decision-making, as Rose sank to a T-4 finish, two shots behind the eventual champion, Jon Rahm. Perhaps even more painfully, Rose’s sudden demise was also enough to allow a briefly but equally inept Tommy Fleetwood—the hirsute Englishman was himself three over par for the last seven holes—to claim the top spot on the Race to Dubai and the $1.25 million bonus.
Needing an eagle on the par-5 18th to at least make the money-list title his own, Rose could do no better than make birdie. The eventual difference between him and Fleetwood was that one shot and, in economic terms, €58,821 (€4,318,916 versus €4,260,095).
“I hit the wall a little bit today,” said the ever-classy Rose, who was quick to pay tribute to Fleetwood, who topped the money list for much of 2017. “But I’m pleased for Tommy. He deserved to win. He’s been ahead for most of the year and it was good for him to finish it off.
Rose tried to explain his seemingly unexplainable collapse down the stretch. “On the front-nine I was playing great golf, but the bogey on the 12th seems to kill all of my momentum,” Rose said. “From that point on, it was a bit of a grind, compounded by the fact that guys did what they needed to do down the stretch. Jon was always going to be a danger. And finishing just one shot from winning the Race to Dubai means there is plenty I can be disappointed about tonight. I’m not really sure where it all went wrong. Sometimes momentum just gets going the wrong way.”
As for Fleetwood, the 26-year-old from Southport, England was understandably relieved to have come out on top, even if he had toppled over more than sprinted through the finishing tape. Having shown signs of stress and strain over the past few weeks as Rose dramatically closed their previously yawning financial gap by claiming the WGC-HSBC Champion and Turkish Airline Open titles in the last three weeks, Fleetwood was just grateful that the ordeal was over.
“It’s kind of amazing,” said the former World No. 1 amateur. “It’s not sunk in yet. It was great being out there today trying to win it. It was really out of my control over the last few holes.”
All of which contrasted sharply with the unabashed delight displayed by Rahm, who earned himself €1,175,050 and will move up to No. 4 in the World Rankings on Monday. Unlike the seemingly preoccupied Rose and Fleetwood, the burly Spaniard who earned the tour’s Rookie of the Year award earlier in the week closed like a champion, his bogey-free 67 carrying him to 19-under-par 269 and a one-shot edge over Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand and Irishman Shane Lowry. Lowry’s closing 63 (“that’s as good as I can play”) was the lowest round of the final day.
“It’s a very special feeling,” Rahm said. “What I’ve done this year, especially on the European Tour, is really unbelievable. A year ago I wasn’t even a member. I’ve gone from nothing, to an affiliate, to European Tour champion, to Rolex Series champion, to now twice Rolex Series champion and winner of the DP World Tour Championship. This is just such an incredible feeling.”
In more ways than one, that was surely the order of an extraordinary day, month and year on a European Tour that begins all over again in Hong Kong on Thursday.