BETHESDA, Md. – The U.S. Open marked the wrong kind of anniversary for Justin Rose.
When he left Pinehurst No. 2 two weeks ago, that marked one year and 25 tournaments around the world that Rose had failed to win. He had won during each of the previous four years, on some of the best courses, and while the 33-year-old from England knows better than most not to take winning for granted, it was on his mind.
That’s what made winning the Quicken Loans National on Sunday so important.
It’s a big boost,” Rose said. “And it has not been lost on me that I have not won for over a year. Obviously, the clock passed a year at the U.S. Open, so it was nice to get on the right side of that very quickly.”
It took another U.S. Open to change his fortunes. Or at least a tournament that felt line one.
Congressional has hosted the U.S. Open three times – most recently on a soggy course in 2011 that produced a record score by Rory McIlroy – and one PGA Championship. The course played as tough as those majors, certainly tougher than 2011.
Rose and Shawn Stefani finished at 4-under 280 – 12 shots higher than when McIlroy won. Only six players broke par in the final round, none better than a 68. Seven players had at least a share of the lead at one point Sunday, and most of them went the other direction.
“Congressional got its reputation back after the U.S. Open,” Rose said. “I really enjoy this type of golf and this type of test. I think it tested all of us. I’m delighted.”
It wasn’t easy.
Patrick Reed, who had a two-shot lead at the start of the final round and a two-shot lead at the turn, crumbled with back-to-back double bogeys and shot 41 on the back nine for a 77 that knocked him out of the top 10 (on the leaderboard, not the world ranking).
That gave Rose a chance, and he took advantage with a 5-iron into 5 feet on No. 11 for one of only four birdies Sunday on the toughest hole at Congressional. In trouble on the 14th, he was thinking about laying up with a 7-iron until boldly playing 3-wood to gouge it out of thick grass and thread the bunkers onto the green for a simple par.
It was all falling into his lap – until he nearly threw it all away.
Tied for the lead at 5-under par with Stefani, who was a hole behind him and playing like he had been in this position on a regular basis, Rose tried to hit a 4-iron through a tiny gap in the trees. But he turned it over too quickly, and while he got out of the trees, the ball bounded left down the fairway and into the water.
Rose figured he had blown it.
“I kind of made a hash of it,” he said.
But that’s when his caddie, Mark Fulcher, informed him that Stefani had failed to save par on the 17th hole. A bogey would keep Rose in a tie for the lead.
“Everything else was forgotten at that point,” Rose said. “I wiped the slate clean and just focused on my putt on 18. An amazing feeling in any sort of championship when you make a putt like that. That means something. That’s special.
“And then the playoff, it was just up to me to not do what I did the first time around.”
He left that to Stefani, who had drilled his tee shot in regulation and narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt for his first PGA Tour victory. In the playoff, Stefani pulled his tee shot in the trees and got relief from grandstands blocking his view of the green. He chose a 6-iron to punch it around the trees.
“The grass closed the club down,” Stefani said, “and it went left into the water. I was trying to play it down the right side and have a chance at a putt, two putts for a par. That’s the way it goes. It was great to have a chance to win.”
Both closed with a 1-under 70.
The consolation for Stefani was a spot in the British Open – his second major. The leading four players not already exempt from the top 12 at Congressional earned a place at Royal Liverpool next month. The other three were Ben Martin and Charley Hoffman – both made two birdies on the last three holes – and Brendan Steele, who got in despite a double bogey in the water on the last hole. Steele earned it ahead of Andres Romero, who shot 68, because of a higher world ranking.
Rose was already in, though he has never been to Royal Liverpool. He was playing poorly in 2006 when the Open last was held there. Now he goes in with confidence.
He’s a winner again, moving up to No. 7 in the world, and he has proven to win on the best courses. His six PGA Tour wins have been at Aronimink, Cog Hill, Muirfield Village, Merion, Doral and now Congressional.
He won this event at Aronimink in 2010 and received a trophy the shape of a Liberty Bell. This trophy was in the shape of the Capitol.
The way Congressional play, it might have felt like that U.S. Open trophy he won last year.