Woods wilts as Robert rocks
Britain's Robert Rock won his head-to-head duel with a ragged Tiger Woods to lift the Abu Dhabi Championship title on Sunday after the former world No 1 produced his worst performance of the week.
The two players started the day in a tie for the lead and it was the little-known Rock who held his nerve on the final day to collect a second European Tour victory with a closing 70 for 275, 13 under.
Woods's sustained excellence over the first three days at the demanding Abu Dhabi Golf Club indicated the 14-times major champion was back to his best but his game unravelled on Sunday as he faded to a 72 for 277.
World No 3 Rory McIlroy (69) finished second on 276 while Woods had to settle for a share of third spot with former US Open champion Graeme McDowell (68), who had a hole-in-one at the 12th, and Dane Thomas Bjorn (68).
The bearded Rock, who started the week 117th in the rankings, was almost overcome with emotion after landing the Falcon Trophy and the first prize of 347 024 euros ($455 700).
"I really can't believe I did that today," said the 34-year-old Englishman after another hot day in the desert. "It is such an amazing feeling.
"I was just happy to be playing alongside Tiger, that was a special honour in itself. Early on I played really well and I surprised myself.
"I hit some good shots and I began to tell myself, 'Why not (go and win it)?'. I've worked very hard at my game over the last few years but I didn't think this would ever happen," added Rock after eclipsing a world-class field.
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Woods, seeking a 96th tournament victory, wore his trademark final-day red shirt and was the clear favourite to win at the start of the round.
However, the pinpoint accuracy he showed with his irons and woods earlier in the event suddenly gave way to a succession of errors as he reached only one green in regulation in the opening eight holes.
The 36-year-old American gritted his teeth, producing a scrambling effort on and around the greens just to stay in contention for his first victory in a full-field event for more than two years.
"I had a chance to win the tournament and I didn't do it," said Woods. "I was just a touch off today.
"Some of my shots went a bit further than I thought they would. A couple of my three-woods went about 320 yards and a couple of my eight-irons went about 180.
"Those are numbers I don't normally hit so I am going to have to go away, reassess and figure that out. I putted beautifully but I just didn't give myself enough looks at birdies," added Woods.
"Robert played great today. He was solid and consistent and didn't do anything wrong."
The Englishman, backed by the occasional cry of 'Rocky, Rocky' from the galleries, came close to throwing the title away with a nerve-jangling effort at the par-five 18th.
Italian Open champion Rock smashed a wayward drive into the desert scrub and contemplated a risky recovery even though his ball was in sand and close to a cactus bush.
Taking heed of some wise words from his caddie, Rock eventually decided discretion was the better part of valour and went back 50 yards to the fairway under penalty.
He also fluffed his fourth, a chip in front of the green, but two putts from 30 feet for a bogey six were enough to clinch the title.
Rock said partner Woods had been the perfect playing companion.
"Tiger's a great guy," he added. "He was brilliant to play with and was fantastic to me the whole way round."
It was a case of so near yet so far for McIlroy, with the US Open champion regretting his moment of madness in Friday's second round when he incurred a two-shot penalty for using his hand to brush away sand on the fringe of the ninth green.
LEADING FINAL-ROUND SCORES
275 - Robert Rock (britain) 69 70 66 70
276 - Rory McIlroy (Britain) 67 72 68 69
277 - Graeme McDowell (Britain) 72 69 68 68, Thomas Bjorn (Denmark) 73 71 65 68, Tiger Woods (U.S.) 70 69 66 72
278 - Matteo Manassero (Italy) 73 65 71 69, George Coetzee (South Africa) 71 72 65 70
279 - Keith Horne (South Africa) 71 71 68 69, Thorbjorn Olesen (Denmark) 70 67 71 71, Francesco Molinari (Italy) 74 67 66 72, Paul Lawrie (Britain) 70 69 68 72
280 - Sergio Garcia (Spain) 71 69 71 69, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (France) 68 71 69 72
281 - Anders Hansen (Denmark) 71 70 72 68, Romain Wattel (France) 74 69 69 69, Gareth Maybin (Britain) 68 70 72 71
282 -Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) 70 70 72 70, Lee Westwood (Britain) 72 72 68 70, Simon Dyson (Britain) 72 72 68 70, Mark Foster (Britain) 75 67 69 71, David Lynn (Britain) 74 70 67 71, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spain) 72 74 65 71, James Kingston (South Africa) 72 69 67 74
Report Day 1
Report Day 2
Report Day 3