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Published: Monday, 6/7/2010

Solid golf pays off with coveted title

DUBLIN, Ohio - It seems so long ago, if only because it was. Justin Rose was a 17-year-old amateur when he thrilled the crowd at Royal Birkdale and captured the golf world's attention by holing his pitch shot on the 72nd hole to finish fourth at the 1998 British Open.

He surprised that same world a day later by turning professional, his expectations admittedly "skewed." And then, a man-child without a tour who hopped the globe hoping to cash in on his celebrity, Rose proceeded to miss the cut in his first 22 pro tournaments.

That's a long time to go without a single, solitary red cent being added to your debit card. And 12 years is an equally long time to wait for your first win on American soil.

Rose is a celebrity again, finally, after winning the Memorial Tournament yesterday.

And that first PGA Tour win could not have come at a more appropriate time or place because Jack Nicklaus, the tournament's host and the game's greatest champion, won a bunch of big tournaments just this way.

Sure, Nicklaus bombed it farther off the tee than anybody and seemed to take advantage of every birdie opportunity, but what he really did well was lie in wait for others to make the big mistakes. Sometimes it happened en route to those 18 major championships, and sometimes it didn't, which is why he finished second in 19 other majors.

Rose shot a 66 yesterday on a breezy day at Muirfield Village to rally from four shots behind after 54 holes and, yes, that's a pretty good day's work. But, noted Nicklaus, "He never made a mistake; he played good, solid golf on the toughest holes."

And that brings us to No. 12, as tough as any of them in the wind.

And it brings us to the magic of television. There are plenty of people who will suggest watching golf on TV is boring with a capital B. But sometimes, like yesterday, it is the only way to watch golf. It was the only way to see how the Memorial was both won and lost.

Rickie Fowler and Ricky Barnes were on the 12th tee. Rose was in the greenside bunker at No. 13. Phil Mickelson was on the 15th hole, although nobody knew exactly where.

By the time those players had finished those respective holes, with action that was virtually simultaneous, only Rose had escaped disaster, and he was well on his way to victory.

Fowler and Rose were tied for the lead, Barnes was three back, and Mickelson, bidding for the No. 1 world ranking, might have made things really interesting with a good drive on the par-5 15th, a birdie hole.

Instead, he blasted it w-a-y left into trees and junk, so far off mark that he needed to hit a provisional. Barnes and Fowler both watched their tee shots bounce off a bank into the pond that protects the 12th green.

Mickelson eventually found his ball, had no choice but to drop onto a cart path, and made a more than respectable shot. But to make a long story short, he missed a two-foot putt and made double bogey. So did Fowler. So did Barnes.

Rose blasted out of the bunker and made a five-foot putt to save par. Suddenly, he had a two-shot lead, and two birdies down the stretch more than sealed the decision.

When Nicklaus saw the wind blowing yesterday morning he "knew there were going to be some problems out there. In the wind, 12 will always be a swing hole. That can be a birdie or a double bogey real quick."

It was a par for Rose, and he took it and ran.

"When I got through 12, when my caddie handed me my putter leaving the tee, I told him, 'I'm glad that shot's over with.'•" he said. "That 12th tee shot, it's the scariest."

For Fowler, clad in flaming orange from head to toe, No. 12 was the strike of midnight when he turned back into a pumpkin.

"We were both at 16-under," the 21-year-old Fowler said. "I was ready to go. I felt good. I missed a par putt on [No.] 10, which was a setback, but up until I hit that 5-iron in the water on 12, I was liking my position because it would have been a fight through those last six holes."

Instead, no punches would be landed, and Rose cruised to the finish, where he kissed wife Kate and lifted his 16-month-old son Leo into the air only to have the child break out in a well-deserved ovation.

Rose hasn't won since the '07 Volvo Masters in Europe, his seventh overseas title, and he tried to convince himself that winning was winning, even if it wasn't in America.

"Now that the monkey's off my back, I'll admit there is a difference, of course," he said. "To win a PGA Tour event, I think you certainly need to have 100 percent control of your emotions."

And let others make 100 percent of the mistakes.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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