We all thought it would take something spectacular to unseat Dustin Johnson from his position atop the WGC-HSBC Champions leaderboard on Sunday in China. As it turned out, it only took a 5-under 67 from Justin Rose to do the trick. Rose won his second career WGC event on Sunday at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China by two strokes over Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Brooks Koepka.
Johnson held a six-stroke lead over Koepka entering the day and an eight-stroke (!) lead over Rose. But the No. 1 player in the world bogeyed his first two holes and never recovered. He made five bogeys overall on the day and didn’t card a single birdie.
“I was fine. I mean, I felt fine all day,” Johnson said. “I just could never get anything going and didn’t hole any putts. It was pretty simple.”
After going out in even-par 36, Rose played flawlessly coming home. He shot a 5-under 31 on the back nine for his first PGA Tour win in two and a half years. The outcome surprised Rose, given that he was down eight to somebody who had won three of the last five WGC events played worldwide, but he also knew on a day that fewer than 10 players cracked 70, he would have a chance.
“It’s the kind of day you certainly don’t expect,” Rose said. “It’s the kind of day you hope for, dream for but a lot of things need to go your way in order for a day like today to happen coming from eight shots behind, especially going against a player like D.J.
“It’s unbelievable. Obviously we all know the position D.J. was in, and I think today was the kind of day … where that kind of swing is possible. I shot 5-under in tough conditions and he had to play good golf to keep it around par today, and obviously he made a few mistakes. It was really tricky out there, and obviously I played one of the best back nines I’ve played in forever. To shoot 31 on the back to come through, saved my best till last.”
The eight-stroke comeback was actually the third-biggest in PGA Tour history. Or if you want to look at it from a different angle, it tied the largest blown lead in PGA Tour history. The last person to do it was Sergio Garcia in 2005.
There was no epic collapse from Johnson this week, though. He simply played great through three rounds with a 68-63-68 start, and then he didn’t. There was no triple-bogey hole on Sunday or crazy bungling of a course management situation down the stretch. He just … didn’t make birdies. That’s all.
And Rose, who said he thought starting the day that he was playing for second, took advantage. That’s a consistent theme on the PGA Tour. You have to be lights out for four rounds to win big boy golf tournaments. Not three or three and a half, but all four. When somebody as great as D.J. (and even with a monster lead) falters, somebody else is going to take advantage.
Rose did so on Sunday in China, and as a result he jumped back into the winner’s circle for the first time in what probably felt like forever for him. The reality? He’s now won somewhere worldwide every year since 2010. After losing to Garcia in a playoff at the 2017 Masters, Rose had a tough summer. He didn’t have a single top 50 (!) until the end of August when he ended the year on a streak of four top 10s in four straight events. This win is an exclamation point to that stretch.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won, or at least it feels like that,” Rose said. “I guess … I’ve won every year since 2010, if you include the Olympics last year; that was my only win. This is only win in 2017. Left it late this year but it feels amazing.
“Whenever you beat the top players in the world, that gives a tournament victory so much more meaning, and obviously with a leaderboard like we had today with Dustin, Brooks, Stenson, I take a lot of pride in winning this tournament.”