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Brian O'Driscoll in action during the Pro-AM event in Abu Dhabi last week

Brian O'Driscoll in action during the Pro-AM event in Abu Dhabi last week

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Brian O'Driscoll in action during the Pro-AM event in Abu Dhabi last week

IT'S far too early in the year to be talking of 'worst choke in history' or even making confident predictions for the US Masters.

Martin Kaymer's crazy final-round collapse in Abu Dhabi, for example, doesn't even rate on the Richter scale of golf's most seismic slumps - namely, Greg Norman's final-round implosion at Augusta in 1996, Arnie Palmer's slip-up down the stretch in the 1966 US Open, Jean Van de Velde's comedy of errors at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open or Rory McIlroy's meltdown in the 2011 Masters.

This is not to excuse the German. Sure, he was unlucky when two wayward tee shots landed in bushes on Sunday, requiring him to drop out under penalty and contributing to a double-bogey at nine and a triple at 13.

Duffed

Yet a duffed approach that flew no more than 10 yards as he racked up that catastrophic seven at 13, casts further suspicion over his wedge play. One must hope seeds of doubt sown on Sunday don't take root.

Kaymer's preference for playing key shots from off the green with his putter during last summer's march to triumph at The Players and US Open hinted at a lack of confidence with finesse chip shots. Still, even the greatest have foibles.

The trials endured by McIlroy on Abu Dhabi's greens inevitably led some to conclude that, once again, he'd been hobbled by his Achilles Heel, putting; super-slow motion TV during the third round even showed him striking the ball well above 'the equator' or 'sweet spot'.

However, any suggestion of a glitch in his putting technique was summarily dismissed during the closing 66 which propelled McIlroy to his fourth second place finish here in five years, one behind French winner Gary Stal.

After a three-putt bogey at six, McIlroy asked caddie JP Fitzgerald to assist in reading his line on the eighth. From that moment, he started holing putts, making a hat-trick of birdies through the turn and three more down the stretch.

Here was proof positive that McIlroy's earlier woes were rooted in his reading of heavily-grained greens, a difficulty he had experienced before in Abu Dhabi.

The quality of McIlroy's general play was remarkable, given it was his first outing after a mid-winter break in which he didn't hit a shot in four weeks prior to his seven-day tune-up in nearby Dubai.

McIlroy said he had never struck the ball better on his seasonal debut, and hitting 64 of 72 greens in regulation, including 34 of 36 at the weekend, suggests his global domination will continue.

After another week's practice in Dubai, McIlroy plays Sunday's Abu Dhabi Pro-Am at Yas Links before heading back up the Emirates Highway for the Omega Desert Classic, in which he registered his first professional win in 2009.

Yet, for all his Middle Eastern promise, odds of 5/1 against McIlroy winning April's Masters (and clinching his career Grand Slam) are ludicrous, especially when one places his speckled record at Augusta against that of defending champion Bubba Watson, multiple winner Phil Mickelson, Australia's Green Jacket hero Adam Scott, relative novices Jordan Spieth and Jason Day and, of course, a recovered Tiger Woods.

McIlroy one day will win the Masters, probably several, maybe even April's. However, he must find a way of scoring better on Augusta's par-fives, for which he is a paltry 21-under in 22 rounds (against 51-under by Mickelson in the same period), or discover a consistently safe route down 10, his nemesis, before such short odds can, in mid-January, be regarded as remotely interesting.

'Bod' wins long drive but deserves oscar

RUGBY legend Brian O'Driscoll impressed with his golf skills during the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship Pro-Am - and he has clearly picked up a few acting skills from his missus.

O'Driscoll didn't hesitate when Tour caddie Dave McNeilly asked if he'd record a video message to be played at a friend's wedding. Taking the iPhone, O'Driscoll extended best wishes to the happy couple, joked that it had been a choice between the reception and playing golf, then, after panning around the luxury resort, gave a shrug into the camera that said it all!

When McNeilly discovered the selfie was in slow-motion, O'Driscoll readily did a second take. There wasn't an Oscar in it but the nine handicap picked-up the 'Longest Drive' Award for a 300-plus yard effort.

McGrane relishing good company as Lawrie bids for redemption

DAMIEN McGRANE is delighted not to be eating for one over the next couple of weeks on Tour.

McGrane's good pal and room-mate on Tour for nearly a dozen years, Peter Lawrie, missed out on his card by one stroke at European Q-School last November but now has a golden shot at reclaiming his credentials.

Lawrie has landed a sponsor's invite to this week's $2.5m Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, where he'll also fulfil his duties as a member of the Tour's ruling Tournament Committee, followed by consecutive call-ups to the $2.65m Omega Desert Classic in Dubai and the $3m Maybank Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.

"Peter's lucky he's such a popular guy out here and is getting starts," says Kells man McGrane. "It's good to see, and more power to him. It's a great opportunity and hopefully things will go his way over the next few weeks."

McGrane's own card is 'secure' for 2015 but he's under no illusion about the year-on-year threat of losing one's place on Tour and the "indignity" of scrambling for opportunities to play, keeping fingers crossed for form good enough to make those invites pay.

"It's difficult but that's professional sport," says McGrane.

At 43, he's nearly three years older than Lawrie (right) but both of them won their full Tour cards in the same year, 2003, when the Dubliner was 'Rookie of the Year'.

"It's competitive out here and if you don't produce on the course, the reality is harsh," adds the Meath man, a solid performer who shared 55th place last Sunday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, banking ¤7,747 in his first Tour outing in 2015.

"At some time in their career, all players spend time at the top and at the very bottom," he explains.

"When you're riding the crest of the wave on Tour, you're so high up, you think it'll never end. Then when you're on the other side of things, you realise what a mountain it is to climb."

Lawrie, the 2008 Spanish Open champion who has won ¤5.6m prize-money in his career on the European Tour, has struggled since opting to revamp his swing change in 2013. This polished and once hugely consistent performer has not had a top-10 finish on Tour since the Irish Open at Carton in June 2013.

He clung on to his card that season but after making just six of 30 cuts last year, Lawrie faced a nerve-wracking first trip in 13 years to Q-School, where he went within a whisker of regaining his card.

After already receiving two invites to play in South Africa since December, the chance to build momentum in three events on the trot is precious.

Star-snapping Jimmy can now take selfies

JIMMY WALKER photographs stars for a hobby, even getting four of his heavenly photos published on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website.

Well, the Ryder Cup ace is entitled to snap off a few selfies after a record win on Sunday made him the hottest star in the PGA Tour firmament.

Walker, an understated 36-year-old from Oklahoma, tops the US Money List after retaining the Sony Open title by a record nine strokes on 23-under after following Saturday's eight-under 62 with 63 on Sunday.

Beaten in sudden death by Patrick Reed last week at the Hyundai, after leading by three with five to play, Walker was determined to snap up his fourth win in 32 Tour starts. In six days in Hawaii, he banked $1.7m, boosting his haul this season to over $2m.

Irish Independent