Fowler tops McIlroy, Stenson for win in Abu Dhabi


Forget about Spieth vs. McIlroy. In the end it was the somewhat forgotten third man in the marquee grouping at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Rickie Fowler, who left the U.A.E. with the trophy. 

Fowler shot a 3-under 69 in the final round to finish at 16 under, one shot clear of Thomas Pieters and two ahead of both Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. The win is his fourth worldwide victory since May and cements Fowler, who began the week at No. 6 in the OWGR, as one of the game's elite players.

Fowler finished his third round early Sunday morning and amassed a 54-hole lead after finishing off a 7-under 65. He built on that advantage with birdies on each of the first two holes of his final round, but let the field back into the tournament with a double bogey on the par-3 seventh.

What followed was the first of two key hole-outs that led the American to victory, as Fowler jarred a lengthy bunker shot for eagle on No. 8 to erase his blunder from the previous hole.

"My caddie responded with, 'Golf's funny that way,'" said Fowler, who will move to No. 4 in the world after the win. "I said, 'Well if you flip them, that's two pars in a row.'" 

Fowler followed with pars on each of the next eight holes, and he held a tenuous one-shot lead on No. 17. After his approach sailed long, he chipped in again - this time from the rough to build a two-shot lead that essentially sealed the tournament.

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"This is a big one," Fowler said. "It was a lot of fun today. It was a bit stressful at times; Thomas was playing well. It was fun to go kind of head-to-head with him being in the same group, so we had a good time. It's just nice to come out on top this week."

McIlroy's T-3 finish was his fifth top-3 finish in the last six years in Abu Dhabi, but he did not go down without a fight. After making the turn in 1 over, McIlroy played his final seven holes in 5 under, including a closing eagle that got him to 14 under and gave him at least a slim chance of victory.

Like McIlroy, Stenson ended with a flurry that included birdies on three of his final four holes. But once again, the Swede came up just short in his first start following a 2015 season that included five runner-up finishes and no wins.

The story of the week, however, is Fowler, who was largely overshadowed in the lead-up to the event by two of the only five men ahead of him in the world rankings. But after handling "overrated" questions less than a year ago, Fowler has now demonstrated that he can both win and do so regularly against elite fields.

His four most recent victories - The Players, the Scottish Open, the Deutsche Bank Championship and Sunday in Abu Dhabi - all included strong closing finishes en route to victory over some of the game's best.

This is the second straight time that Fowler has topped Stenson, who was a runner-up at TPC Boston, and this is the third time Fowler has beaten McIlroy dating back to his first professional win in Korea in 2010 and his first PGA Tour win at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

Spieth, who will remain world No. 1 after this week, finished T-5 after a closing 68.