Solid Englishman Holds Off Woods & Co. to Clinch Second European Tour Win
Abu Dhabi, UAE. Sunday 29th January, 2012: Having started the day as joint overnight leader, England's Robert Rock kept his cool on a sun-soaked afternoon in the UAE capital to hold off 14-Major winner, Tiger Woods, and win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship today.
Rock, playing alongside Woods and Sweden's Peter Hanson in a crowd-pulling final grouping, displayed nerves of steel to keep a 10-strong chasing pack - which included Major winners Woods, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell - at bay.
After serving notice of his title intentions with a pair of birdies on holes two and three, Woods' challenge wilted courtesy of consecutive bogeys on the fourth and fifth. He pulled one back on the ninth but another bogey on ten - followed by eight straight pars - ended the American's quest for glory on his maiden Abu Dhabi appearance.
Having matched Woods' birdies on two and three, Rock then birdied the sixth, 14th and the 16th - he dropped shots on eight and 13 - as the largely unheralded Staffordshire-born 34-year-old held steady in front of pulsating Abu Dhabi galleries.
By the time the final grouping reached the last tee, Rock had a two shot cushion on McIlroy, who was already in the clubhouse. Showing the first sign of nerves, Rock drove into hazard down the right but a sensible drop to ensure a bogey was enough to see him claim his second - and biggest - career victory.
"This win is special," said Rock. "It's such a big tournament, with a huge field and to play with Tiger today was something that I'll never forget. It's pretty hard to believe that I managed to win; I'm very surprised. 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. It was a lot of work, but I am very happy now."
Rock was presented with the new 'Falcon' trophy in front of packed grandstands by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). Officials from the Authority also revealed the Championship had exceeded its target by welcoming 82,000 spectators - more than double the record set last year.
"What a thrilling end to a fantastic Championship - we have seen true drama in the desert," said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. "We promised the giants of golf and fans have certainly seen massive performances from the game's biggest names. Today, we add another giant to our pantheon - well done, Robert, you stood up to the test and are a thoroughly deserving champion.
"We've also had perfect weather at a stunning venue and the crowds just kept coming and coming. They've been rewarded with the closest, most dramatic Championship yet."
McIlroy capped another powerful Abu Dhabi performance with a three-under par 69 to take second place for the second year running. The fans' favourite was left ruing a two-shot penalty on Friday, as he finished just one shot behind Rock.
At least the Ulsterman consoled himself by winning two Diamond First Class Tickets to any destination on the Etihad Airways network, after he fired a field-leading 22 birdies over the Championship's four days.
After shooting 72 to secure his place in a three-way tie for third alongside Denmark's Thomas Bjorn and McDowell, Woods praised Rock's performance and lamented his own missed chances. "Robert played great today; he was solid, consistent and he didn't do anything wrong," said Woods, adding: "Iím pleased at the progress I've made so far. Today was a day where I putted beautifully; I just didn't give myself enough looks."
McDowell's sensational back nine saw him nail a hole-in-one on 12 and birdie 13, 17 and 18. His birdie-birdie finish, helped by a lucky bounce off the stands onto the green on 18, helped him to five-under for the last nine holes and 11-under over all.
"It was certainly an eventful last seven holes with a hole in one and a nice ricochet off the grandstand at the last," said McDowell. "I've been playing golf a long time and I've never seen a ball coming off the grandstand to six feet like that. But it was a lot of fun and I always enjoy this tournament."
McDowell's hole-in-one was the third seen by Championship fans on the 12th, after Sergio Garcia and his compatriot Jose Manuel Lara both aced the same hole on Thursday. Emirates Palace, the Championship's official hotel partner, kindly extended its prize of an annual three-night stay in a Grand Room, valid for life, to all three.
For more information please visit www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com
To view exclusive footage of the Championship photocalls please click here.