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Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Robert Rock   (Getty Images)
Robert Rock (Getty Images)

It is not the memory of beating Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy that is most spurring on Robert Rock ahead of his title defence of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week - it is what European Tour colleague Jamie Donaldson has just done to him.
 
"He sent me a copy of his Masters invite, which has wound me up quite nicely," Rock said.
 
"I think the text went something like 'Did you get one of these?', but I've still got time and that's the motivator."
 
Donaldson, winner of the Irish Open last July, earned himself a first trip to Augusta in April by finishing 2012 in the world's top 50.
 
He and Rock have engaged in friendly banter for a while, the Welshman remembering how he was constantly being asked the time after Rock won himself an expensive watch.
 
Rock leapt from 117th to 55th with the best performance of his career 12 months ago, but that was as good as his ranking got all year and he now returns to the Middle East just outside the top 100.
 
"Yes, I've slipped a bit, but I was in a similar position a year ago and one week can change an awful lot," the 35-year-old said.
 
"The win last year almost got me in The Masters - and I now know my good stuff is really quite good.
 
"What I did has been a constant boost ever since. I've no need to be frightened of anything I face in golf again."
 
What he did was go head-to-head with Woods in the final round and not only beat him by two, but also finish one ahead of runner-up McIlroy.
 
"It feels like more than a year ago and it's a little bit of a shame it's coming to an end really because somebody is going to win the trophy and it might not be me," he said.
 
"Memories fade a bit, don't they? Being the current champion feels quite nice."
 
There had to be a chance he would be paired with Woods again in the opening two rounds on Thursday and Friday - they have not played together since their Middle East clash - but instead he is with Ernie Els and Justin Rose and on that Rock states: "I'd prefer it on the weekend again rather than the first two days.
 
"Tiger and Rory are the two you tend to play with when you play well.
 
"I've only seen Tiger a couple of times since that round. He's been nice enough - hello and stuff in passing.
 
"I played average first two days, really good Saturday and then OK Sunday, but it seemed really good in the circumstances and the company.
 
"My nerves were very, very bad to start with and calmed as the round went on.
 
"I took a bit of a boost from the fact that I was doing well and surprising myself."
 
Winning the way he did it put Rock on the golfing map and had a lucrative spin-off when the seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel became one of his sponsors.
 
"We signed a two-year deal and it's just been stunning. I've been a few times and have been looking forward to going back," he added.
 
"It was beyond what I thought I might get from winning. I had some other sponsors, but I had space for another and that was a nice one to come on board."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1DONALDSON, JamieWAL18-14
T2ROSE, JustinENG18-13
T2OLESEN, ThorbjørnDEN18-13
4SANTOS, RicardoPOR18-11
5GRACE, BrandenRSA18-10
T6LUITEN, JoostNED18-9
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