Sunday 17 December 2017

McIlroy's desert deja-vu

Rory McIlroy endured weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic
Rory McIlroy endured weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY racked up his eighth top-five finish in nine events yesterday with four birdies on the back nine at the Emirates Club ... but it must still go down as another lost weekend for the Ulsterman at the Dubai Desert Classic.

For the second year in succession, US Open champion McIlroy (22) looked a real world-beater during the opening two rounds on the Majlis Course but couldn't sustain it through Sunday.

A final-round 71 yesterday left Holywood's 2009 Desert Classic champion four strokes shy of impressive winner Rafael Cabrero-Bello (27) from the Canary Islands.

Lee Westwood would be forgiven for having a canary after a maddening final round. Though superb from tee to green, he failed to convert a flock of birdie chances. Though very firm, Dubai's heavily-grained putting surfaces were slowed yesterday to allow for the wind, but this beefy Englishman is a notoriously streaky putter.

The final insult for Westwood came at 18, where he hit a monster drive into mid-fairway, some 200 yards from the hole, but failed to take any advantage whatsoever of a timely lull in the breeze which had made a real trial of this final day on the Majlis.

After pulling his four-iron approach into the left fringe rough, Westwood hit a clumsy chip nearly 20 feet past the cup and missed the birdie putt.

So instead of forcing his way into another Desert Classic play-off (Westwood was beaten in sudden-death by Miguel Angel Jimenez here in 2010), he had to settle for a final-round 70 and a share of second with Stephen Gallacher (69) on 17-under, one behind Cabrera-Bello.

Few would have bet against Westwood early yesterday as he boosted his overnight lead by holing out for an eagle three with his putter from well off the second green ... yet his only shred of consolation at the finish would be creeping past McIlroy into world No 2.

Gallacher (37), winner of a Mercedes S Class Sedan for a hole-in-one on Thursday, also could have driven the tournament into extra-time -- but after laying up out of the rough at the last, he failed to hole from 12 feet for the necessary birdie.

All credit must go to Cabrera-Bello for the fearless final-round 68 which clinched a third successive victory by Spanish golfers at the Desert Classic, and fifth in all.

Modestly, the 27-year-old said he was "deeply honoured" to add his name to those of Ballesteros, Olazabal, Jimenez and 2011 champion Alvaro Quiros, on the huge coffee pot trophy.

Cabrera-Bello has no problem going low, as he proved with a final-round 60 to clinch his only previous European Tour victory at the 2009 Austrian Open and once again with last Thursday's superb opening 63.

Yesterday's effort was even more impressive, however, as Cabrera-Bello, alone among the contenders, went bogey-free, coping far better with testing conditions than McIlroy, Thomas Bjorn (71) or Martin Kaymer (74). Blessed with a big, languid swing, Cabrera-Bello has the game and the temperament to take advantage of opportunities which now will come his way, including a place in the elite 64-man field at the Accenture Match Play in Tucson next Wednesday week.

Like Bjorn, with whom he shared the lead on 13-under after both shot fine 65s last Friday, McIlroy lost his rhythm in rising wind during Saturday's level-par 72.

The young Ulsterman's frustration was compounded by a three-putt bogey at the first yesterday and he completed a fraught outward half by hitting his approach into water at nine for a double-bogey six.

McIlroy's first birdie of the day came at the long 10th and he would pick up three more to claim a share of fifth (and a cheque for €66,266) -- poor return from a tournament which promised so much more.

Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin tied 28th on seven-under and pocketed €16,850 each after closing 70s. Damien McGrane (72) banked €10,034 two shots back in 42nd, while Shane Lowry (77) haemorrhaged shots and cash late on yesterday, earning €3,797 for his share of 66th.

Irish Independent

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