Jimenez's just deserts as McIlroy falls short
JUBILANT Miguel Angel Jimenez (46) compared his 16th victory on Tour and ninth since turning 40 to his favourite Rioja: "Like good wines, with age they get better and better!"
For Rory McIlroy, however, his first title defence would be unpalatable and he left Dubai last night wracked as much with pain as frustration. McIlroy revealed, only under questioning, the secret injury which seriously hampered his efforts at the Omega Desert Classic.
Seen popping a pill on the golf course at the weekend, the youngster admitted he'd suffered throughout the tournament from a lower back problem. "I've been taking an anti-inflammatory for the last few days and it's strapped up pretty good," he said, shortly after signing for the final-round 73, which left him tied for sixth with Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
Jimenez brought the tournament to a dramatic climax by beating Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood in a dramatic three-hole play-off. While McIlroy spent much of the day tantalisingly close to the leaders, he chided himself for not putting them under serious pressure.
McIlroy's 10th top-seven finish in 11 outings will lift him above Padraig Harrington into a career-best seventh place in the world when the rankings are unveiled today. Yet he'll have other things on his mind. McIlroy's scheduled to undergo a scan on his lower back in Belfast after attending a morning media launch in Dublin.
"It's my left sacroiliac joint," he said. "It's something I've had for a while and I inflamed it during the four weeks I've been out here. It's just a repetitive thing. When I hit a lot of balls, it just niggles a little bit. It's been at me all week. The more the week went on, the more it was there. I can still swing okay but felt it when bending down or if I hit one hard."
Since childhood, McIlroy has generated so much torque in his swing, it's led to wear and tear in the pelvic region. An exercise programme helps keep the condition under control but the youngster aggravated the problem in the Gulf by hitting an inordinate amount of golf balls on his return from his Christmas break. Yet he insisted: "I have a scan every six months. I just need rest. I'll be okay for the Accenture Match Play in Tucson next week."
McIlroy sportingly played down the injury's impact on his performance, but plainly did not strike the ball with the usual lustre over the weekend. Starting the final round at nine-under, two behind co-leaders Jimenez, Lee Westwood, Alvaro Quiros and Thongchai Jaidee, McIlroy needed to make early birdies to hang onto the huge Arabian coffee pot he won in such sensational fashion last February.
Yet he couldn't gather momentum in the blustery conditions and on crustry greens which ran much faster yesterday than for the opening 54 holes.
Unaware all four leaders were also struggling to make headway, McIlroy's frustration was compounded when he dropped shots at seven and nine. Though his only birdies of the day, at the par-five 10th and 13th holes, got him to within one stroke of the lead on nine-under, McIlroy stalled again when he badly short-sided himself in deep rough at the par-three 15th, ending with bogey.
With no option but to go for the green off the tee at the 359-yard 17th, McIlroy took two to get out of bottomless rough on the bank to the right of the green. While the second, a wonderful drop shot, parachuted down just five feet from the pin, he missed the par putt.
Around mid-afternoon, Quiros seemed the Spaniard most likely to claim the €296,500 first prize as a great up-and-down birdie from the front bunker at 10 put him one ahead of Westwood, Jaidee and Jimenez. All week, his putter had been enchanted but that magic vanished on 13 as Quiros three-putted from close range for par. Suddenly, it looked like a wriggling snake in his hand as the Tour's biggest hitter blew out of contention with bogeys at 14, 15 and then 18.
When Jimenez grabbed the lead with a beautiful tap-in birdie at 17, only Westwood could respond, forcing the play-off with one of his own at the last. Twice more they went down the par-five 18th, Jimenez surviving when his 115-yard approach ballooned before landing on the fringe rough inches from the water. He got up and down to save par.
The deadlock was broken when Westwood missed from six feet for par on the ninth and Jimenez holed from five.
McIlroy banked €57,818 in sixth; Graeme McDowell (75) and Gareth Maybin (72) earned €19,594 in a tie for 20th (-3); Darren Clarke (73) €16,633 in 27th (-2) and Damien McGrane (72) €9,428 in a share of 44th on one-over.
- Steve Striker cruised to victory at the Northern Trust Open last night with a two-shot victory over Luke Donald. Stricker led by six going into the rain-delayed final round and was never in danger of being caught once he landed three birdies in four holes around the turn.
Donald charged with six birdies to finish with a 66, however, on 16 under par, Striker won by two shots and now moves up to number two in the world.
Padraig Harrington's missed cut in the event -- his first of the year -- has led to him dropping out of an automatic spot in Europe's Ryder Cup standings.