SSI Err
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Robert Rock with the Falcon trophy  (Getty Images)
Robert Rock with the Falcon trophy (Getty Images)
Robert Rock held off 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods and US Open Champion Rory McIlroy to claim a sensational victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

With the theme tune to the "Rocky" films being sung by fans - many of them having witnessed England's cricket collapse the day before - the 34 year old came up with a true knock-out performance.

Only 117th in the Official World Golf Ranking at the start of the week, Rock said after his one stroke triumph over McIlroy: "I really can't believe I have done that today." 

"I was just very happy to be playing with Tiger. That's a special honour in itself."

While he shot a two under par 70 to finish 13 under, Woods scrambled his way to a 72 and instead of recording a second successive victory on the comeback trail had to settle for a share of third place with Graeme McDowell and Thomas Björn.

"I was just a touch off," said the former World Number One, who hit only one fairway on the back nine and only six greens in regulation all day.

"But Robert played great. He made a couple of key up-and-downs and a couple of beautiful iron shots down the stretch."

McIlroy's closing birdie for a 69 looked as if it might give him a play-off when Rock's drive down the same hole headed towards the lake.

It stopped short of the water, but in the hazard amongst rocks and plants and, with a two shot lead, he wisely elected to take a penalty drop.

Short of the green in three, his pitch came up 25 feet short and still left him with work to do, but after holing birdie putts from ten and six feet at the 14th and 16th his touch did not let him down and two putts completed the greatest day of his career.

McIlroy was runner-up for the second year running, but will remember this one for the incident when he brushed sand away just off the green midway through his second round, leading to a costly two shot penalty.

For years Rock worked in the Swingers Golf Centre in Lichfield, "selling Mars bars and watching Tiger win Majors".

He was 26 before he made it onto The European Tour and 31 when he finally tasted success at last year's BMW Italian Open.

"It's been a steady progression and I've worked hard, but I didn't think this would happen," he said.

In addition to Woods all the world's top four were present. Number One Luke Donald came 48th, while Lee Westwood's 17th place means McIlroy regains second spot off his former stablemate.

Every one of Woods' 14 Major titles came with him at least sharing the lead with a round to go and this was only the ninth time in his entire career that he has not gone on to victory from such a position.

He was odds-on to come out on top again when he birdied the second and third, but Rock matched both of them and the American's bogeys at the next two separated them.

After a seven foot birdie on the sixth the gap was three, but by the turn it was back to one. Rock ran up a six at the long eighth and Woods birdied the next.

That made him favourite again, but a bogey six on the 582 yard tenth was his only deviation from par on the back nine.

There was still a chance Rock might crack after bogeying the 13th, but his response was superb and after the scare down the last the €347,024 first prize became his.

The most dramatic finish, however, came from McDowell. He holed-in-one on the 12th - Sergio Garcia and Jose Manuel Lara did it in the first round - chipped in on the next and then closed with two more birdies.

That does not tell the full story. The Ulsterman thinned his third shot at the 18th and, after hitting the grandstand behind the green, the ball rebounded some 30 feet to within six feet of the flag.

Like McIlroy, though, McDowell was left to rue something earlier in the week. He went in the water and double-bogeyed the 17th on day one after his driver broke.

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