Justin Rose kept saying he was only interested in becoming a better player.
He only stopped saying that when he looked like one at the AT&T National.
Buried beneath that boyish smile was a bruised ego from having blown a three-shot lead a week earlier at the Travelers Championship. Rose was going for his second straight PGA Tour victory when he suddenly looked like the guy who once missed 21 cuts in a row.
A week later at Aronimink, he had a chance to redeem himself.
Rose had a four-shot lead going into the final round of the AT&T National, then a five-shot lead when he made the turn after hitting 5-wood from 264 yards to tap-in range for eagle on the par-5 ninth. Even as his margin shrunk to a single shot for the final two holes, he kept his calm for a one-shot victory Sunday over Ryan Moore.
And then the truth came out.
"Obviously, I was in here talking about how I wanted to be getting better as a player, that is ultimately the truth," Rose said, grinning. "But I knew having not closed out last week, it was important for me — just for myself — to do it today. I felt like I really did put into play the lessons I learned at Hartford. I played much slower. And I really felt calm."
Rose had every reason to be sweating, and not just from the steamy conditions.
Tiger Woods was long gone. He caused pages to be turned in the record book with his performance at the tournament where he once was the host. With a 71 in the final round — completed as Rose was teeing off — Woods failed to break par in four rounds of a regular PGA Tour event for the first time since the Bay Hill Invitational in 1999. He tied for 46th, his first finish outside the top 40 since the Players Championship in 2005.
"Go watch some real players," he said, laughing as he headed into the dining room for lunch.
Rose sure looked like the real deal when he made the turn, five shots clear of anyone else.
It all changed so suddenly. Rose had a three-putt bogey on the 10th hole when he didn't hit it hard enough up the ridge. Then came a three-putt bogey on the 11th hole when he hit it too hard up the ridge. This was especially unusual because Rose had gone 274 consecutive holes on the PGA Tour without three-putting.
That's about the time Moore began his amazing charge, one-putting the final eight greens for a 65.
After the second three-putt bogey, Rose walked slowly up the hill to the 12th tee. He didn't look rushed. He pulled out a driver, took a deep breath and belted just through the fairway. Over the final hour, his pulse felt the same. He never lost his composure. All he did was hit every green the rest of the way, and two-putt them all for par.
"Every two-putt felt like hard work coming in, I've got to tell you," Rose said. "It was good fun. I felt very much in control of my emotions, and it's been a long week. But I'm very glad we've got to this point with a win."
What does it all mean? Different things for different players.
Rose was on the verge of being the forgotten man in the year of the Englishman, plunging down the world ranking and not even making it to the first two majors. Now, he has two PGA Tour titles in his last three starts. Finishing at 10-under 270, he earned $1,116,000 to move up to No. 3 on the PGA Tour money list, and No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings.
He remains outside the top five to make the Ryder Cup team in world ranking points, although no one is playing better golf at the moment — not just in Europe, but anywhere. Rose didn't flinch when presented that notion.
"I think it's a fact," he said. "I don't look at it any other way. I'm playing great."
Moore gave it everything over the back nine with a remarkable performance. His consolation prize, if $669,600 wasn't enough, is a trip to St. Andrews for the British Open.
Rose and Bubba Watson, who did not play this week, earned exemptions through a special money list. Moore earned the spot available to the leading player, not already exempt, from the top five at the AT&T National.
"That's a nice little bonus at the end," said Moore, who won the battle for the British over Jeff Overton, who shot 67 to finish third, and Charlie Wi, who closed with a 69 to finish fourth.
And for Woods?
That's a little harder to decipher. For a guy who couldn't break par, who finished 14 shots out of the lead, he sure didn't seem bothered. Perhaps it was because while Woods can't remember the last time he didn't break par over four rounds at a regular tour event, he also couldn't remember the last time he felt so confident in the driver.
He putted so poorly, however, that Woods at one point jokingly considered changing to crosshanded, belly putter and the claw, this during the 15-yard walk to the third tree.
Did he make any progress?
"I did," he said. "I drove it pretty good this week. That was fun. It's not too often that Stevie is talking me out of hitting driver. I was driving it so good, I just wanted to hit driver every hole. It hasn't been like that in an extremely long time."
But winning? Seems that's been a long time too. It's the first time since 1998 that Woods played this many PGA Tour events — six — without winning.