Friday 24 November 2017

Rock delighted to burn woods

Englishmen holds nerve as McIlroy rues penalty in Gulf

England's Robert Rock will probably have to win the Ryder Cup or land a major to beat the feeling he had last night.

The 34-year-old had never spoken to Tiger Woods until this weekend, but now he is part of an elite group of golfers who have gone head-to-head in the final group with him and won.

Rock also defeated the world's top four to land the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, just his second victory in 227 European Tour events going back a decade.

He famously lost in the 2009 Irish Open play-off to amateur Shane Lowry.

His only previous success came in last year's Italian Open and he had to dash from there to the US Open -- via the American Embassy in London to resolve a visa problem.

This time he is on a week off before returning to the Middle East for the Dubai Desert Classic.

"I know what I have done doesn't happen very often," said the former teaching professional at the Swingers Golf Centre in Tamworth.

Since Woods left the amateur ranks in 1996 only nine players - Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn and Graeme McDowell among them - have stopped the American going on to win when he held at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

Rock did it from the relative obscurity of 117th in the world, but now he is close to the top 50 and if he is there in two months' time a Masters debut at Augusta will be his.

"I really can't believe I have done that," Rock said after surviving a last-hole scare to beat Rory McIlroy by one and Woods, McDowell and Bjorn by two.

"I was just very happy to be playing with Tiger. That's a special honour in itself.

"I was nervous, but looking forward to it. I was prepared to accept that people don't generally play well with Tiger (certainly not the first time they do it) and if it turned out to be a bad day then fair enough.

"He spoke to me before and that definitely helped. I would have been even more of a nervous wreck otherwise."

Rock shot a two-under-par 70 to Woods's untidy 72 for a win that virtually guarantees him a place in the 64-man Accenture world match play championship late next month.

McIlroy, meanwhile, takes back the world number two spot from Westwood after finishing runner-up in the event for the second year running.

His week will be remembered, though, for the two-stroke penalty he received midway through his second round for brushing away sand that was not on the green.

"It's one of those things - it happens," he said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

"You've got to take the positives.

"It's the first week of the year and still a very good start to the season."

He too has Dubai next, but Westwood will have the chance to go back to second on the rankings -- and close the gap on Luke Donald, only 48th in Abu Dhabi - at this week's Qatar Masters.

McDowell holed-in-one in his closing 68 and birdied the last after his third spot hit the grandstand behind the green and rebounded to within six feet of the flag.

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