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Rock Outlasts Major Champions in Abu Dhabi
England's Robert Rock found his name above some pretty illustrious golfers on the leaderboard at the end of the Abu Dhabi Championship. The 34-year-old Englishman edged former major winners Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell for his second career win on the European Tour.
Even though he bogeyed the par-5 closer at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Rock's 2-under 70 on Sunday gave him a 72-hole total of 13-under 275, one stroke clear of 2011 U.S. Open winner McIlroy (69) and two ahead of 2010 U.S. Open champion McDowell (68), 14-time major winner Woods (72) and Thomas Bjorn (68). McDowell's score was aided on the 186-yard 12th hole when his 7-iron tee shot bounced three times before rolling into the cup for an ace.
Rock and Woods began play tied for the lead and were paired in the final round. "It's pretty hard to believe that I managed to win today. Very surprised," said Rock. "I played good. So I guess I had a chance from early on, a couple of birdies made the day feel a little bit easier. But 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 doesn't get an awful lot harder than playing with Tiger Woods," Rock added. "So I guess barring a major championship, I know I can handle that again. So that's pretty nice to know."
Woods was seeking his first full-field event since November 2009. But that will have to wait for another day after posting three birdies and a like number of bogeys. "I didn't hit the ball as well as I would like to," he said. "Today I was just a touch off. I was righting the ball through the fairways. I was hitting the ball a little bit further than I thought I would . . . So something to look at, and something to try and figure out."
Rock excelled despite the struggles of Woods and their other playing partner, Peter Hanson, who shot a 6-over 78. "I was just focusing on trying to hit fairways and then hit my iron shots as good as I have been and give myself chances at birdies," Rock said.
"Both Tiger and Peter struggled on occasions on a few holes and I managed to keep my ball in the right position and didn't put myself under too much stress until the last, which was a relief."
Sharing sixth place at 10-under 278 were 18-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero (69) and South African George Coetzee (70).
Woods was playing in his season opener. After opening with scores - 70, 69 and 66 - that improved in each of the first three rounds, his game faltered when it mattered most. "Obviously the ultimate goal is to win and I didn't win," Woods said.
"I hit the ball good enough to win the golf tournament this week. Today I just didn't give myself enough looks at it. Most of my putts were lag putts. I didn't drive the ball in as many fairways as I should have. Some of the balls were running through. Other balls, I was just missing. It was a day I was just a touch off off the tee and consequently I couldn't get the ball close enough to give myself looks."
Also playing in his first tournament of the year, McIlroy was generally pleased with how it went. "You know, you've got to take the positives," the 22-year-old Northern Irishman said. "It's the first week of the year, and you know, it looks like it's going to be the second year in a row here that I'll finish second. But still a very good start to the season and something I'll build on."
No. 1-ranked Luke Donald had a disappointing - for him - tournament, carding rounds of 71, 72, 73 and 71 to finish in a tie for 48th at 1-under 287. After closing with a 2-under 70, No. 2-ranked Lee Westwood ended up sharing 17th place at 6-under 282.
So the star of the week was Rock, who astonished even himself with his fine performance in the pressure-packed final round. "I can't believe I have done this. It's such an amazing feeling," he told Sky Sports. "I surprised myself early on as I was very nervous, but I hit some good shots and then thought to myself, why not?
"This win is special," he added. "It's such a big tournament, with a huge field and to play with Tiger today was something that I'll never forget. . . . It was a lot of work, but I am very happy now. "
For all the scores, visit http://www.europeantour.com/europeantour/season=2012/tournamentid=2012004/leaderboard/index.html?showLeaderboard=Y.