BELEK, Turkey – England’s Justin Rose is again the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, but it wasn’t easy Sunday as he needed an extra hole to put away China’s Haotong Li in the final round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
For Rose, 38, the return to southern Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast as the defending champion had many subplots beyond his 11th victory on the European Tour.
The victory was his first successful title defense in a 20-year career on tour (scores).
After he supplanted American Dustin Johnson as No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking a week earlier in Shanghai, Rose knew that a victory here would return him to the top of the world order, in place of American Brooks Koepka.
“I said a while back that I wanted to get to world No. 1 by winning golf tournaments, and I got there by finishing second at the BMW a month or so ago,” Rose said Wednesday when asked about his chance to return to No. 1 after his two-week reign in September. “This would be a great place to knock off two big goals of mine, which is to get back to world No. 1, obviously, because once you get a taste for it, it's quite nice, and secondly, to defend a title would be a special feeling, too. Yes, I'm keenly aware of the situation.”
Rose started the final round at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort three shots behind Li. With five birdies in the middle of his round, he built a one-stroke lead before bogeys on the final two holes allowed Li to pull even again. Rose won with a par on the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, as Li bogeyed it for the second consecutive time.
“There were moments out there where it looked like both of us weren't holding our nerve very well,” Rose said. “It was quite tricky to putt to be coming in, to be honest with you.
“Disappointing for me to finish 5, 5, really,” Rose said. “The 5 at 18, you can somewhat live with. The 5 at 17, I should have cleaned that hole up easier than I did. Ended up OK in the end.”
After tying for fourth in the 1998 British Open, Rose turned pro and promptly missed the cut in 21 consecutive starts. Winning major championships and ascending to the top of the OWGR might have seemed highly improbable then, but he believed that he could be a world-class player. He since has won tournaments on major professional tours on five continents, including the 2013 U.S. Open.
The victory here ticks a lot of boxes for Rose, but now his focus will be on the 2019 major championships, starting with the Masters. Rose has finished 14th or better at Augusta National in seven of the past eight years, including four top-10s. He was runner-up in 2015 and 2017.
“I'm always there or thereabouts on the leaderboard every year,” Rose said. “I feel good there. I've got a great playbook. I know how to play the course. I read the greens well there. If my iron play sharpens up, which it has done a little bit of late, I think it's a great opportunity for me.”
His iron play will be under the microscopic before April as Rose will start the new year playing clubs made by the Japanese equipment manufacturer Honma Golf.
TaylorMade is opting to sign younger players, which is why the company did not re-sign Sergio Garcia after 2017. Rose has a chance to try different clubs, and according to sources has settled on Honma.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Rose said when asked about talk here that he will be changing equipment next year.
Rose’s Adidas apparel deal also expires at the end of this year and likely will not be renewed.
With his victory, Rose moves to third in the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai rankings with two events to play. However, Rose set his end-of-year schedule long ago to include the Hero World Challenge and the Indonesia Masters. With little chance of catching series leader Francesco Molinari, Rose will not play either of the European Tour’s final two events: this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa or the following week’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“I've always had a deep-rooted belief that I had potential to be a great player,” Rose said.
He proved it again here in Turkey.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli