Justin Rose duly won the Volvo Masters here yesterday evening and with it his first Order of Merit title. However, it was anything but the formality the golfing world had been expecting. Indeed, the drama at Valderrama was as intense as it had ever been.
In the event, Rose prevailed on the second extra hole of a three-man play-off when holing a 15-foot putt for birdie. That would have been labelled as courageous whatever the circumstances, but after what had just unfolded it was doubly so. The young Englishman had watched a four-shot advantage slip away in one dramatic hour on the final stretch, when his nerve and game had seemingly failed him. But he pulled through and his relief was obvious.
"I feel very emotional right now as I had to dig so, so deep out there," he said. "For a while I was terrible and made a few mental mistakes. At one stage, I could even see the Order of Merit title slipping away. I realised I had to keep grinding."
Indeed, as Rose hit reverse with four dropped shots in four holes from the 11th, it did appear as if Padraig Harrington might catch and overhaul him. At the turn, the Irishman had been six behind and resigned to handing over the Harry Vardon Trophy he won last year, but then everything suddenly and remarkably changed. Even Ernie Els, watching from the Far East, must have fancied his chances as Rose struggled to achieve the required top-three placing .
In fact, when the inspired Soren Kjeldsen swooped into the lead with a few holes remaining and when Graeme McDowell hit one of the year's most dramatic shots, Rose's day did appear ruined. It was from the left of the 17th fairway that McDowell struck a seven-iron from 160 metres into the hole for, get this, only the fourth albatross of the European Tour's season. That moved the Ulsterman level with Rose and soon Simon Dyson, although in behind Harrington was making the picture that much the simpler. Missed five-footers at the 16th and 17th essentially did for the Open champion and when Rose birdied the 17th the Order of Merit was safe.
"That was a nice consolation to think of," Rose said, "but I didn't want to win it that way. I wanted to win it by winning the tournament."
He had to see off Dyson and Kjeldsen in the play-off first and, seeing as he had headed out into the sudden-death shootout on the back of a 74, and seeing as the Yorkshireman and Dane had conjured a 70 and 67 respectively, he was hardly the favourite. Particularly as he had shown an alarming propensity to fall just short in a year that had otherwise been so positive. "It's all about winning tournaments and I knew that I needed to. It's been a long road to get here," he admitted.
After the trio all parred the 18th, they headed to the 10th and it was here where Rose delivered the killer blow. He struck a sweet approach and then coolly located the hole. Even then Dyson, his good friend from Yorkshire, could have prolonged the agony, but his 10-footer slipped wide.
It was time for Rose not just to celebrate his double success, but also a first prize of nearly £500,000 as well as his elevation into world golf's top 10 – the victory lifting him five places in the rankings to seventh place.
That is some accomplishment for a professional who, a little over 12 months ago, was struggling down at 127th in the rankings. Now Rose is the leading European player and his stock is soaring.
Especially as he has now proved that he can, indeed, win tournaments. "There has to be an easier way than this, though," he laughed. "I certainly did it the tough way."
But then, Valderrama is tough and Rose's achievement should not be downplayed. Of the 54 competitors, 14 failed to score better than 20 over par. It is a demanding test of golf and that Rose could survive it bodes well for his future. And what a future it promises to be.
Rose is the youngest winner of the Order of Merit in 18 years and already has enough Ryder Cup points to make his inclusion on Nick Faldo's team next year a certainty. This experience will stand him in good stead for Kentucky, as it will for the majors. He won it, blew it and then won it all over again. Only the best usually manage that.
How they finished: Volvo Masters
283 J Rose 70 68 71 74; S Kjeldsen (Den) 73 70 73 67; S Dyson 74 70 69 70. (Rose won on second play-off hole)
285 G McDowell 68 75 74 68; P Harrington 71 71 71 72
288 M Kaymer (Ger) 72 78 66 72
289 M A Jimenez (Sp) 73 70 77 69
290 I Poulter 76 71 69 74
291 T Bjorn (Den) 76 73 70 72; J Randhawa (Ind) 73 70 74 74
292 R Karlsson (Swe) 77 70 71 74
293 A Wall 73 74 72 74; P McGinley 69 75 74 75
294 P Hanson (Swe) 75 72 74 73; R Fisher 71 80 71 72; A Cejka (Ger) 78 70 70 76
295 F Molinari (It) 75 71 76 73; C Montgomerie 72 73 71 79; M Brier (Aut) 76 72 74 73; R Jacquelin (Fr) 71 73 79 72
296 O Wilson 74 75 71 76
298 N Fasth (Swe) 75 70 76 77; G Fdez-Castano (Sp) 74 75 76 73; P Hedblom (Swe) 77 72 78 71
(GB or Irl unless stated)
* Order of Merit
1 J ROSE (GB)
Prize-money £2,065,801; Events played 12; Wins 2 (MasterCard Masters, Volvo Masters); Top-three finishes 5; Top 109; Missed cuts 0; Score to par: 35 under.
2 E ELS (SA)
Prize-money £1,751,045; Events 18; Wins 2 (South African Airways Open, HSBC World Match Play); Top three 6; Top 10 12; Missed cuts 1; To par 86 under.
3 P HARRINGTON (Irl)
Prize-money £1,728,250; Events 15; Wins 2 (Irish Open, Open Championship); Top three 3; Top 10 8; Missed cuts 1; To par 16 under.