Not all wins are created equal. Consider: At Colonial Country Club this week Kevin Na shot a 62 on Thursday and a course record-tying 61 on Sunday. And yet he finished alone in fourth place, a half-dozen shots back of the winner. Brooks Koepka carded a pair of 63s, including one in the final round. He came in second, three strokes behind.
Then there was Justin Rose.
There will never be such a thing as a perfect round of golf, but the 37-year-old Englishman’s week at Hogan’s Alley was beyond impressive and, more importantly, perfect enough. Despite Na’s too-late charge—he was undone by middle rounds of 73 and 70—and Koepka’s eight birdies in the final round, Rose coasted to a three-stroke victory for his ninth career win on the PGA Tour, tying him with Nick Faldo for the most ever by a Englishman.
After all, 66-64-66-64 on the par-70 layout is tough to beat. Rose’s 20-under total tied his career-low 72-hole score and was the second lowest total in event history behind Zach Johnson’s four-day 259 in 2010.
“Probably at the top,” Rose said when asked where he would rate his ball-striking for the week on the tree-lined Fort Worth track. “I think in 2012-2013, I put together some pretty special ball-striking. I think I led greens in regulation one of those years. But this is sort of back to my best for sure from an iron play point of view.”
Rose led the field at Colonial in that category, hitting 57 of 72 greens in regulation for the week, including 14 on Sunday. For the week, his strokes gained on approach shots was up there, too. Rose’s previous best was a +2.98 average at the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship. At Colonial, he averaged +2.563 for the week.
Numbers only tell part of the story, though.
After Rose and Koepka had each played their first five holes in two under, Koepka holed a 40-yard bunker shot for birdie on the par-3 sixth in what could have been a big momentum shift. Instead, Rose calmly drained his 10-footer to match. He’d also made a 20-footer for birdie on the previous hole.
“[They] were big moments in my round,” Rose said. “Definitely to make a couple of key putts to get comfortable with the putter early in my round, I felt that that was really, really important for me.”
Playing in the same group as Koepka, Rose knew he had somebody that wasn’t just going to give him the title. Rather, there was going to be someone pushing him right under his nose.
“It was his putting that looked so special for me today,” Rose noted of his challenger. “He actually holed a lot of good par putts today. He wasn’t always in it for birdie. He made some really good six-, eight-foot par putts. Looked like when he was on the green he was going to make birdie. I knew I needed to keep playing aggressive.”
Koepka, not surprisingly, did, too. That’s his style, and he went out in 31. Pretty good. The only problem was he still lost a stroke to Rose, who went out in 30 playing alongside him.
Koepka chipped into the deficit with four birdies over his first eight holes on the back nine but it wasn’t enough, with Rose adding birdies of his own at the par-5 11th and another from 25 feet on the par-4 17th.
“I felt like every hole one of us had a birdie,” Koepka said.
It only felt that way. Between the two of them they birdied 10 of 18 holes on Sunday, and each bogeyed the 18th. By then, of course, it didn’t matter.
The victory is Rose’s second of the season and comes just a couple weeks shy of the only major he has ever won, the U.S. Open—which Koepka claimed a year ago. It also etches his name into a trophy at Colonial that includes Hogan and Nicklaus, among other legends.
“It was very impressive the way he played all day,” Koepka said of Rose. “He never backed off. Never really gave an opportunity for anybody to get in there.”
Rose wasn’t perfect. Just perfect enough, and damn good.