Published March 12, 2012
DORAL, Fla. – Even after the biggest win of a career that is starting to fill up with significant titles, Justin Rose had to share the stage with two stars who appear headed in opposite directions.
Rory McIlroy took another leap forward by nearly pulling off a remarkable rally.
Tiger Woods took a disturbing step back when a sore left Achilles tendon became too painful for him to continue. He withdrew from the final round Sunday at the Cadillac Championship, the second time in 10 months that he couldn't finish a tournament because of his Achilles.
With the Masters just three weeks away, Woods' future looked muddled as ever when he limped through the parking lot to a black sedan and drove away from Doral, not knowing the severity of this latest injury.
"Left leg injury," was all he told a press officer as he drove away.
In a statement he issued about an hour later, Woods said, "I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning, and it continued to get progressively worse. After hitting my tee shot at 12, I decided it was necessary to withdraw. In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time, I decided to do what I thought was necessary."
Just as he was leaving, McIlroy was charging.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, who reached No. 1 in the world last week by holding off a late charge by Woods, holed out a bunker shot for eagle on the 12th hole and before long was within one shot of the lead.
Two bogeys left him two shots behind, but with a start to the year reminiscent of the Tiger Woods of old. In five tournaments, McIlroy has a win, two runner-up finishes, a third and a fifth.
"There was no thought of me relaxing this week or thinking that my job's done," McIlroy said. "I know better than that."
Rose was oblivious to all this.
He started the final day three shots behind Bubba Watson. He went to the back nine two shots behind PGA champion Keegan Bradley. When he scrambled for bogey on the final hole of the Blue Monster to stay one shot ahead, Rose thought he had won the tournament upon hearing someone in the crowd say that Watson had hit into the water.
Instead, he had to wait for Watson to hit a bullet 4-iron out of the palm trees, over a corner of the water and onto the green to just inside 10 feet for a chance at birdie to force a playoff.
As wild as this day turned out to be, Rose left nothing to chance. He went over to the practice range to stay loose, and only when he heard nothing — no cheers for a birdie putt — did he realize that Watson had missed the putt and Rose had captured his first World Golf Championship title.
"These moments are incredibly sweet," Rose said.
Rose figured he would need a score much lower than 2-under 70 to have any chance of winning at Doral, especially after spending the first three days with Watson.
"That's the way I saw the day playing out," he said.
Not many could have seen a Sunday script quite like this.
Sergio Garcia hit four balls into the water on the par-4 third hole and made a 12. Paul Casey made a hole-in-one on the 15th, right after he agreed to share the Cadillac with his caddie if he made an ace. Craig Connelly leapt with joy into Casey's arms, only to find out moments later that a car is only offered for a hole-in-one on the 13th hole.
Watson was so wild on the front nine that he didn't hit a single fairway and shot a 39, despite making a par from 20 feet, a bogey putt from 15 feet and another bogey putt from about 8 feet. It could have been a lot worse.
Bradley had a two-shot lead and he twice was just off the green on par 5s — at No. 8 and No. 10 — and wound up making bogey. He drew an awful lie on one hole and chipped through the green, and three-putted from 6 feet on the other.
Through it all, Rose was steady.
He got up-and-down for birdie on the 10th, and then built a two-shot lead with a 52-degree wedge into 5 feet for birdie on the 14th.
"And from there," he said, "I knew it was just a matter of closing it out."
Rose finished on 16-under 272 and earned $1.4 million, moving to No. 7 in the world.
Watson, remarkably, recovered from his front nine to regain a share of the lead, lose it again then nearly pull off the shot of the tournament except that he missed the birdie putt. He shot 74.
McIlroy closed with a 67 and moved atop the PGA Tour money list and FedEx Cup standings in just three tournaments.
Rose won for the fourth time on the PGA Tour, and he has won on some big courses with some big names. Two years ago, he won the Memorial (hosted by Jack Nicklaus) and the AT&T National (hosted by Woods). Last year, he captured a FedEx Cup playoff event at the BMW Championship. And now the 31-year-old from England has his first WGC title.
"The progression is really, really nice," said Rose, who has 10 worldwide wins. "The only thing that really is the next level up is a major — not to say that I'm at that stage in my career where I'm only focusing on the majors. I think there's a lot more for me to do in the game than to get to that point. But no doubt, I feel my game is getting ready for that."
McIlroy now takes three weeks off to get ready for the Masters. It's the same schedule he played last year, when he took a four-shot lead into the final round at Augusta only to shoot 80.
But after his record-setting win at the U.S. Open last summer, his undisputed status as the world No. 1 and a swing that is becoming the envy of golf, he will be among the top favorites at the first major of the year.
Woods, meanwhile, just hopes he can play.
The last time he withdrew with an Achilles tendon injury, he missed two majors. Woods said he would have it evaluated this week.