Dubai: The picture was pretty clear coming down the stretch: Rafael Cabrera-Bello needed something special to overtake an ominious-looking Lee Westwood to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday afternoon.
Saving an extraordinary par from a clump of trees on the 16th and then picking up a crucial shot on the 17th did the trick and landed the 27-year-old Spaniard the biggest win of his career.
“It proves these players are good enough to compete at this level. Younger, less experienced players will be looking up to them and hopefully they will follow in their footsteps” Tweet this
Down-to-the-wire finishes, like the one witnessed on Sunday, have become part of Omega Dubai Desert Classic's rich folklore. Call it the magic of the Majlis, each year the fans are treated to a great spectacle of golf. This year as many 33,235 witnessed the 23rd edition of the $2.5 million (Dh9.1 million) European Tour event.
England's Westwood, who started the day with a one shot lead and extended it with an eagle on the second, and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher both needed a birdie to force a play-off, but missed their respective putts on the closing holes.
Westwood's chip from the fringe raced past the hole and with it he blew the chance of posting his first win in Dubai since making his first appearance in 1994. Gallacher, meanwhile, had a fairly straight-forward 12-footer for a birdie, but he misread the line.
Leap in rankings
When things have to happen, they happen. It was Cabrera-Bello's day and he took his chances and his game plan worked very well. His win vaulted him into to 60th from 119th and represented the first time Spain have won the same European Tour event for three consecutive years since the Mallorca Classic, when Miguel Angel Jimenez won in 2003, Sergio Garcia in 2004 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 2005.
With this win, which carried his biggest European Tour prize of €315,532 (Dh 1.5 million), Cabrera-Bello also become the fifth Spanish player to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, following Seve Ballesteros (1992), Olazabal (1998), Jimenez (2010) and Alvaro Quiros (2011).
"This win will open a lot of doors and this was really the quality jump in my game I was looking for and that I had been practising hard for," said Cabrera-Bello, who was ranked 116 places below Westwood.
The Englishman does have the small consolation of taking the world number one spot back from Rory McIlroy, who finished fifth, by 0.004 ranking points.
Much of the focus during the tournament may have been on top-ranked players, but it was the collective presence of players, which included 11 former Major winners and 12 former champions, that contributed to the success.
The added attraction was the presence of leading Mena Golf Tour players — Jake Shepherd, Peter Richardson and Sean McNamara — who made it to the event after finishing among the top three on the order of merit, all made the cut, which in itself was a endorsement for the new tour.
"It proves these players are good enough to compete at this level," said Mohammad Juma Bu Amim, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Golf in Dubai. "Younger, less experienced players will be looking up to them and hopefully they will follow in their footsteps.
"I also feel their performance will encourage all the other, especially our local players. Because now they know what it's all about.
"I spoke to people like Pete Cowen, the coach of Lee Westwood, and Pete thinks Ahmad [Al Musharrekh] has the game. It's just a matter of putting time in competition golf which is what the Mena Tour has been introduced to provide," he added.