Robert Rock Outduels Tiger Woods for Win at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
England's Robert Rock won his duel with Tiger Woods and in the process took the title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a final score of 13-under(-par) for the tournament.
Rory McIlroy finished with a 12-under(-par) to finish in second place for the second year in a row.
Tiger Woods—who started the day as the co-leader with Rock—ended up in a tie for third place with Graeme McDowell and Thomas Bjorn.
Matteo Manassero and George Coetzee finished with a 10-under(-par) and tied for sixth place.
Rock was paired with Woods and Paul Lawrie for the final round. Lawrie tied his playing partners for the lead with a birdie on the opening hole.
Woods' round was full of ups and downs today. At the second hole he pulled his second shot to under a tree. He was able to hit a bump and run to the front edge.
Then, he got the crowd into it by making a 45-foot birdie putt, something that looked impossible after his second shot.
Rock was able to match him with a four-foot birdie and get to 11-under(-par) after two holes.
At the third hole, Lawrie played a sloppy hole and saw him drop a shot behind. Rock made a six-foot birdie, and Woods matched him with a three-foot birdie of his own.
The battle had been declared at this moment.
But then on the fourth hole, Woods made a bogey leaving Rock with the outright lead.
Meanwhile, McIlroy—who had a birdie at the second hole—made a beautiful looking birdie putt on the fifth hole to get to 11-under (-par) and two off the lead.
On this fifth hole Woods dropped another shot after poorly hitting his second shot and coming up short of the green, leading him to his bogey.
At this hole Lawrie was able to get back to 10-under(-par) with a birdie. Rock was out in front by two shots after five holes.
Up to this point, the sky was clear and the wind had not been a factor, but it started to pick up.
And it started to affect especially McIlroy, who on the seventh hole, overshot the green and could not get up and down. That got him to drop a shot and fall back to 10-under(-par.)
Rock was able to make birdie on the sixth to get to 14-under-(par) and after the seventh hole he was three shots up on the second place Woods, Lawrie and McIlroy.
For Woods meanwhile, he didn't look like the player that had led the tournament in GIRs the first three rounds.Maybe his GPS was not working because he couldn't find a fairway even if it was right in front of him.
At the eighth hole he missed the green with his pitch—he had missed the previous seven.
He got out of it with a par after overshooting the hole, but had to feel happy that Rock only managed to make bogey.
Rock's tee shot went wayward when apparently he was distracted by a tee-side photographer.
Woods made a run at Rock on the ninth hole. After his big drive, Woods hit a three wood to the low rough and made a superb approach to the green that left him with a shot at a birdie putt opportunity.
And in transactional fashion, he made the birdie putt to the thunderous roar from the crowd. He was back to within one shot of the lead after Rock made par on the hole.
At that point you would think Woods had him right where he wanted him.
But then right away on the 10th hole, Woods gave back the shot gained. Woods paid a visit to the bunkers off the tee shot and with his approach shot to the side of the green.
Woods was again two shots back of Rock's lead.
On the 11th hole Woods managed to save dropping another shot with a beautiful up-and-down and subsequent 15-foot par-saving putt. That got Woods to display his signature fist pump.
Rock could have extended his lead but missed his birdie putt, giving Woods a break at a deep breath.
Meanwhile, the third hole-in-one happened at the 12th hole when the 2010 US Open champ, Graeme McDowell, made it.
That seemed to give him a second wind and a shot at going for the win as he followed it up with a chip in on the 13th hole to move to nine-under(-par.)
McIlroy had not been able to find a birdie putt to drop until he got to the 13th hole when his birdie moved him to 11-under(-par) and into a three-way tie for second place alongside Lawrie and Woods, two shots behind the leader, Rock.
It was looking good for Rock as he was up two shots with six holes to play.
On the 13th hole Rock came back to the contending group as he dropped a shot after his poorly shot chip, leading him to make bogey on the hole.
Woods was able to keep pace after saving par with another great up-and-down. That got the crowd going once again.
And once again you would have thought Woods had Rock right where he wanted him.
Rock's pressure must have been like gravity on his shoulders. With five holes to play, seven players were within two shots at the top of the leaderboard.
They had Rock right where they wanted him.
Woods' struggles continued on the 14th hole as he paid visit to two more bunkers before reaching the 14th green. He was able again to recover from the green-side bunker and save par.
How much longer was he going to be able to keep this up?
Rock was able to answer the challenge with a birdie on the 14th hole—which played as the hardest hole in the course. That got him to a two-shot lead again.
On the 16th hole Rock's second shot with a five iron was to within 10 feet from the hole and presented him with a birdie opportunity. He made the best of it as he sank the birdie putt.
His challengers started to unravel in front of him. Lawrie missed his par putt from 10 feet, dropping back to 10-under(-par.)
Tiger raced his first putt from the fringe at the front and that went 10 feet past the hole. Somehow Woods managed to save yet another par and stay at 11-under(-par.)
Rock was 14-under-(par) and three shots clear of the lead.
Up ahead McDowell was not done with his magic shots. His third shot at the 18th hole from the fairway bunker flew over the green, hit the commercial boarding in front of the grandstand and bounced back to within three feet from the cup.
Just like he discussed it with his caddy.
McDowell finished on fire at 11-under(-par) 68 and the early clubhouse leader, Manassero, finished right after with a 69 for his 10-under(-par) total, one behind.
McIlroy gave himself an opportunity at the 18th hole. He stuck his approach shot to within eight feet and got the birdie putt to drop. That got him to 12-under(-par) and the clubhouse lead, but Rock was still to play the easy 18th hole, two shots ahead.
Tournament in the bank for Rock, right? Not quite, let's put some drama to this tournament. Rock could not be left off that easy.
That said, Rock's tee shot went right into the hazard but on the beach area—just like McIlroy's the day before.
Rock was a few feet away from the water in the hazard, a cactus hindered his back swing, and a rock interfered with his stance. Could it have gotten any worse?
Rock took a drop back down the fairway and found it with his third shot.
He reached the green with his fourth and then hit a great putt that left the ball right next to the hole.
From there he just tapped in to get the biggest win of his career, as he beat a world-class field that included the pressure of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy on the final round.
For Rock, he has been steadily improving over the last year, which saw him claim his lone title win at the Italian Open and finish in the Top 10 four times. This definitely gets him on the right direction.
As for Woods, this was a big opportunity blown for him, as he definitely unraveled on the final day when the pressure counted the most. He still managed to finish third, but surely it was a disappointment for him given he entered Sunday with a share of the lead against the 117th-ranked player in the world.
McIlroy played well as he finished with 22 birdies on the week. He will remember the most the two-stroke penalty that if it wasn't assessed, he could have finished at 14-under(-par) and probably would have won the title.
Looking forward to many more close finishes like this the rest of the year. Especially with Woods and McIlroy contending for the win.
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