Abu Dhabi: There was no Rory McIlroy and no Tiger Woods, but despite their absence due to missed cuts, the final day’s play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship turned out into a fascinating battle for the Falcon Trophy.
With Justin Rose carrying a two-shot lead, it was David Howell who made an early assault on the prize, with birdies at one and two. Jamie Donaldson, starting two shots behind Rose, birdied his first hole, but the latter’s response was swift and immediate as he also birdied his second and maintained the two-stroke lead.
Howell’s red-hot form continued and his third birdie on the fourth brought him level with Donaldson and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen. While the three were in pursuit of Rose, Olesen birdied the eighth, but after Rose dropped his first shot at the par-four fifth hole it looked set to be a more open race.
Just before the end of the front nine, Howell notched his fourth birdie of the afternoon and, with Donaldson finishing off his first nine with a birdie, the two caught up with Rose.
Howell then birdied his 10th hole and, for the first time in the event, Rose had lost the lead he had held throughout the four days.
However, after a bogey at the 12th, the 13th proved even more unlucky for Howell and all his hard work went in vain when he missed the hole four times from about four feet for a triple bogey and to slip from 12 under par to 10 under par and bow out of contention.
That left Rose and Donaldson, the day one leaders, locked in battle, and the Englishman fought back from his 11th hole bogey to birdie the next, while the Welshman stayed in the hunt when he picked up a shot on the 10th.
With the lead having already changed twice, it was Donaldson’s turn to take the lead at the 14th and, with a successive birdie on the 15th, the Welshman edged to a one-stroke lead over Rose. The world No 5 then dropped another shot on the 16th to trail Donaldson by two strokes.
There was more drama to follow, though, as Donaldson bogeyed the final hole and then had to go and wait anxiously as both Rose and Olesen, who had three birdies in eight holes on his return journey, could have forced a playoff if they had picked up a shot on the par-five 18th. However, both failed to do so and Donaldson picked up only his second European Tour title to move 17th places up the official world rankings to 30th.