After blowout victories in 2014, Martin Kaymer seemed like a lock to turn his big lead into another win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Not this time.
Despite ballooning his lead to 10 shots at one point in the final round, Kaymer dropped six shots in an eight-hole stretch Sunday and watched his massive lead evaporate.
Kaymer’s closing 75 – the worst round of the day, by anyone – left him two shots behind unheralded Frenchman Gary Stal, the 374th-ranked player in the world, who fired a bogey-free 65 on the final day to steal the title. It was the 22-year-old's first career European Tour win.
Kaymer finished alone in third at 17-under 271, one shot behind Rory McIlroy, who shot 66.
“A little shocked,” Kaymer said afterward. “Obviously, I didn’t play as good as the other days, but I didn’t make many mistakes; a couple of bad shots cost me. It’s difficult right after the round to say how I feel. It was definitely a very interesting day and one I need to reflect on.”
It was a stunning collapse from a two-time major champion who made holding a lead look so easy a year ago. Sure, he let a comfortable lead disappear at The Players, but he showed resolve on the final two holes to stay in front. At the U.S. Open, he led in wire-to-wire fashion, rolling to an eight-shot victory.
So much for title No. 4 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Staked to a six-shot lead after 54 holes, Kaymer started hot with three birdies in his first four holes Sunday to build a 10-shot cushion, but he suddenly lost his form. He made a bogey on 6. He made a double on 9. He made a triple on 13. Couple that with Stal’s red-hot play – he made six birdies in an eight-hole stretch around the turn – and Kaymer couldn't muster the rally he needed.
Needing an eagle on the last to force a playoff, Kaymer had to lay up after finding a fairway bunker off the tee, then hit a pedestrian wedge shot to set up a two-putt par. He was the only player inside the top 20 to record an over-par score in the final round.
After playing his first 58 holes in 23 under par, Kaymer went 6 over for his final 14.
It was the second consecutive week that a major champion squandered a big lead on the European Tour. Last week in South Africa, Charl Schwartzel frittered away a four-shot lead with four to play.
Kaymer has yet to win since his U.S. Open victory, and this was just his fourth top 10 overall since Pinehurst (16 events).