LEMONT, IL. — Wire-to-wire champions were rare in the 20 years that Cog Hill has hosted the PGA Tour, and European winners of the BMW Championship and its longstanding predecessor, the Western Open, were rarer still.
England’s Justin Rose met both criteria Sunday after holding off his Australian playing partner, John Senden, on what’s expected to be the end of an era for the tourney at the Lemont layout. Rose started the day with a four-stroke lead, allowed Senden to get within one on the 15th hole and then put him away with a 36-foot chip-in birdie at the 17th.
Rose became only the third wire-to-wire winner at Cog Hill, joining Nick Price (1993) and Tiger Woods (2003), who were Western Open titlists. The BMW, which replaced the Western in 2007, had a wire-to-wire champion in 2008, but Camilo Villegas won his title at Bellerive in St. Louis — a substitute site while Cog’s Dubsdread course was undergoing a renovation.
As far as European champions go, Rose was the first since Harry Cooper won in 1934 and he had only two real challengers in the final round — Senden and another Australian, Geoff Ogilvy, who came on late to nab third place. That got Ogilvy into this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta — the last event of the FedEx Cup playoffs — and a spot on the World team in the upcoming President’s Cup matches in his home country.
Rose had his worst round of the week, a par 71, but finished at 13-under 271 for the 72 holes. Senden shot 69 for 273 and Ogilvy, also a 69 shooter, was another stroke back.
The Rose-Senden duel swung in the winner’s favor at the par-4 17th. Rose’s approach stopped just short of the green while Senden’s went into a green-side bunker. Senden’s escape shot finished 11 feet away, then Rose debated whether to putt from off the green or use a 54-degree wedge. Caddie Mark Fulcher advised the wedge, so Rose went with it and holed the shot.
“You can boil the whole day down to that moment,” said Rose. “John Senden was a rock out there, but I knew it was coming down to me. Either I was going to fritter it away or make something happen to win the tournament.”.
The chip-in gave Rose a two-stroke lead with just the 497-yard 18th to play, but Senden didn’t think he was dead yet after making his clutch par-saver.
“We were pretty close coming down the stretch,” said Senden. “I was pretty steady, and he was making some mistakes. After I holed my putt on 17 I thought I still had a chance, because anything can happen on that last hole.”
Rose wasn’t about to let his first victory of the season and third of his PGA Tour career slip away, however.
“It had been a gritty kind of round,” said Rose, “and it was an amazing feeling, making two great swings on the last.”
After Senden left his birdie putt four feet short Rose nearly holed his. The tap-in for par sealed his victory and boosted him from 34th in the FedEx standings at the start of the week to third heading into this week’s 30-player Tour Championship. By being in the top five Rose controls his own destiny in the chase for the $10 million bonus that awaits the FedEx winner. Any player in the top five now claims it with a win at East Lake. Senden left happy, too, since he needed a top-five finish here to reach the Tour Championship and got it.
Rose, 31, tied for sixth at The Barclays, the first playoff event, but was tied for 68th in a disappointing performance at the second — the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. He didn’t expect good things at Cog Hill, a course he first played in 1997 at the U.S. Amateur.
“It beat me up then,” he said. A year later, though, Rose was the darling of the golf world when — at age 17 — he holed out from the rough on the last hole to tie for fourth at the British Open. He turned pro the next day, then missed his first 21 cuts as a professional while also coping with the death of his father. Success was slow in coming, but Rose is enjoying it now.
“Mentally this is the best I’ve ever been in terms of being very under control with my emotions, being very calm, being very aware of the situation and feeling comfortable with it,” he said. “This week, as a competitor and as a professional, was probably my best-ever performance.”