By Pete Pappas (The Greek Grind)
GolfWRX Staff Writer
Robert Rock won’t soon forget this one.
He went to head-to-head against his idol and 14-time major champion Tiger Woods in the final group Sunday in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and won, tapping in on the 18th hole to finish 13-under par for a climactic one-shot victory.
“I can’t believe I’ve done that,” Rock said. “Today is such an amazing feeling.”
Birdies on No. 14 and No. 16 looked to seal the victory for Rock, pushing his lead to two strokes with two holes to play. But a nervous tee shot on No. 18 added some very real drama to the finish, forcing Rock to take a penalty drop.
“On the 18th the wind blew it, and it was a weak strike,” Rock said. “I didn’t see it land, so I didn’t know if it was in rough or sand.”
As he did all day, Rock regained his composure and salvaged bogey to claim the almost $460,000 first-place check. Click here for more discussion in the forums
Woods was by some accounts the favorite to win the tournament, his first appearance in 2012, but failed to hold his 54-hole lead for just the ninth time in his career and only the third time in European Tour competition.
Rock and Woods traded shots early on, and were tied for the lead at 12-under and 13-under. They both carded par, birdie, birdie on their first three holes. On the second hole Woods drained an amazing 45-foot right-to-left downhill birdie putt after scrambling from beneath a tree the shot before, but he was unable to keep up his early pace. Woods started the back nine with a bogey on a par 5 and finished with eight-consecutive pars. He struggled with his ball striking on the back nine as well, hitting only two fairways and four greens.
Still, Tiger remained encouraged with his play overall.
“I was right there with a chance to win the golf tournament but didn’t do it,” Woods said. “I was just a touch off.”
En route to the most important and significant win in his 14-year career, Rock battled a bona fide powerhouse field, which featured six of the world’s top-10 players. He held off late charges from U.S. Open winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, as well as three-time 2011 European Tour winner Thomas Bjorn.
McIlroy quietly carded 22 birdies on the week to finish runner up, and was seen watching the scoreboard throughout the day. But the young Ulsterman was never able to make a run that would vault him into the lead.
McDowell finished tied for third with Woods and Bjorn, and recorded an ace on the par 3 12th hole, earning him the prize of a three night stay at the seven-star Emirates Palace, once a year for life (Spaniard Sergio Garcia also recorded a hole in one on No. 12 on the opening day, earning the same prize.)
With the win Rock moves to second in the Race to Dubai, and into the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking (the top 50 on the World Ranking list prior to the start of the Masters earn invitations to the tournament).