Rock Crashes Party at Wood’s Desert Swing
Heartbreak for Woods at the Desert Swing.
The first major competition of this year’s European Tour teed off at the pristine Abu Dhabi Golf Club as the opening event of the Desert Swing this weekend, with a host of big names all vying to start the season with a bang by bagging their share of the monster £1.7 million prize purse.
Outsider Englishman Robert Rock, however, defied both odds and expectations to finish as tournament champion on thirteen under, denying Tiger Woods of the victory which had been billed as his for the taking. In doing so Rock joins a very exclusive club; only a handful of world class players have ever started the final day of a tournament tying with Tiger, and have prevailed.
Scoring a respectable 67 in the first round, Rock steadily made his way to the head of the field, over taking the likes of three times previous champion Martin Kaymer who failed to make the half way cut. Striking commentators and spectators alike as eerily calm and collected, Rock kept his head for the duration in a performance which was the definition of gritty.
The final day’s play was not without controversy however, as winner Rock abruptly berated Woods for apparently disrupting his swing whilst on the tenth hole. The fourth round did not have a monopoly on all the excitement, though, with the preceding days all offering their own fair share of entertainment as well. The first day in particular proved to be one of considerable interest, with highlights coming from the threesome formed by McIlroy, Donald and Woods. McIlroy managed to finish the day tying for the lead with Robert Karlsson, having shot a strong 67 which included a particularly tasty chip for birdie on the eighth.
Outside of this group, other notable incidents included Sergio Garcia’s remarkable hole in one upon the twelfth, and an incredible surge by Northern Irish outsider Gareth Maybin (world ranking of 277) to finish second with a readily respectable first round total of sixty eight. The second day of the tournament also had its moments; Donald struck a spectacular shot from the rough on the thirteenth to sink a regulation birdie, and joint leader Rory McIlroy suffered a game changing two shot penalty after tampering with some sand grains in the field of play.
Maybin continued in his run of luck, failing again to drop a single shot, and Woods entertained all by marching up the rankings to finish the day on an equal score with McIlroy. Oleson, from Denmark, was the real winner of the day, racking up 7 birdies and a total of 67 to streak into the lead.
The penultimate day saw the arrival of a flock of birdies, with tournament leaders such as McIlroy, Molinari, Lawrie and Woods all playing well to consolidate their positions. This day saw the beginning of Rock’s inexorable rise, as he nailed a series of difficult shots to secure an excellent score of 66 and 11 under par which brought him into joint first place. Possibly Rock’s greatest shot came on the 18th, where he played a beautiful third stroke which made his putt for birdie all but a formality. With the stage now set for a thrilling finale, the players headed into the fourth round with Woods and Rock leading the pack on a tied aggregate score of 205 apiece. Not many players have faced up to such a challenge with confidence, but if outward appearance was anything to go by then Rock was set to work with all the fortitude which his name implied.
As previously mentioned, Rock’s performance was gutsy and robust, and after collecting his prize for third place Woods was quick to praise the Englishman, saying that he ‘was solid and consistent … he didn’t miss a thing’. As heartening as the win surely was for Rock, it was at least as gut wrenching for Tiger, for whom the tournament had long been hailed as ‘his’ come back event.
The Championship, whose impressive appearance package was apparently instrumental in convincing Tiger to play, was set to be one of Woods’ first international performances since his shameful exit from the world stage in late 2009. Having been the victor in a staggering 38 previous European Tour events, many commentators expected that Woods would succeed in winning the championship, particularly when starting the final day tied with a man ranked only 117th in the world.
With the first phase of this season’s play thus concluded, the European Tour now progresses to the Commercialbank Qatar Masters in a continuation of the Desert Swing on the 2nd of February. Here the field is set to include regulars Lee Westwood and ‘desert king’ Alvaro Quiros, who is tipped by many to succeed in his bid to win the title for a second time here when play begins there later this week.