Stal steals Abu Dhabi title after Kaymer collapse

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2015, 12:48 pm

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). 

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.