Abu Dhabi: England's Robert Rock overcame slight jitters on the 18th hole to emerge the surprise winner of the seventh annual Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship yesterday with a score of 13-under par 275 (69,70,66,70).
At 14 under par 69, Rock bogeyed the last hole after declaring his second shot unplayable with it placed awkwardly behind a boulder. From his drop shot he then took a further three strikes up to the flag on the par five, tapping in the last to avoid a play-off situation with Rory McIlroy, who finished second just a shot off the lead at 276 (67,72,68,69).
Tiger Woods finished tied for third with Thomas Bjorn and Graeme McDowell, at 11 under par 277 (70,69,66,72), blowing his joint lead advantage with Rock heading into the final day by level parring.
Rock and Woods had gone out with equal birdies on two and three but then Woods bogeyed his next two holes before birdieing nine and bogeying 10.
Rock took the lead with more birdies on six, 14 and 16 but pegged himself back every time with faults on eight, 13 and most crucially on 18.
Peter Hanson who went out in their morning pair two shots off at nine under 207 (74,69,67) crumbled to three under 285 with a six under round of 78.
McIlroy, who entered the last day tied for third, just two shots off the lead, birdied on two, five, 13 and 18, bogeying on seven to end with 69, ultimately leaving the Northern Irishman — two shots from victory — to rue that two stroke penalty for brushing sand off the green on day two, a sanction without which he would have won.
It's only Rock's second European Tour win in 227 events and his first victory since the Italian Open in June of last year. It moves him to €411,734 (Dh1.9 million) in The Race to Dubai and takes him inside the top 60 of the world rankings, up from 117th. His previous best in Abu Dhabi was tied for 47th back in 2009.
Rock said: "It's pretty hard to believe that I managed to win today. Very surprised. I played good. So I guess I had a chance from early on, a couple of birdies made the day feel a little bit easier.
"But it's difficult playing with Tiger. You expect almost every shot to threaten to go in. I felt a lot of pressure and couldn't afford any lapses in concentration at all. So a lot of hard work but very happy now."
Woods said: "I just felt I was a touch off. The balls were going further than I thought they normally would. A couple of my three woods went about 320 [yards] and a couple of my iron shots, eight iron from 180 [yards] and numbers I don't normally hit."
McIlroy said of day two's decisive two stroke penalty: "Actually I'm not thinking about that at all. It's one of those things, it happens, and I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.
"It's a good start to the year. It's nice to go out there in the final round of the first tournament and play with a chance to win. I played solid but could have maybe made more of the opportunities that I presented myself with."
Score: Leading final round:
275 - Robert Rock (ENG) 69-70-66-70
276 - Rory McIlroy (NIR) 67-72-68-69
277 - Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 73-71-65-68, Tiger Woods (USA) 70-69-66-72, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 72-69-68-68
278 - Matteo Manassero (ITA) 73-65-71-69, George Coetzee (RSA) 71-72-65-70
279 - Paul Lawrie (SCO) 70-69-68-72, Keith Horne (RSA) 71-71-68-69, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 74-67-66-72, Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN) 70-67-71-71
280 - Jean-Baptise Gonnet (FRA) 68-71-69-72, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 71-69-71-69
281 - Anders Hansen (DEN) 71-70-72-68, Romain Wattel (FRA) 74-69-69-69, Gareth Maybin (NIR) 68-70-72-71.