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Shane Lowry challenge fades badly after first hole triple bogey as Thomas Pieters claims Abu Dhabi title

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Championship winner Thomas Pieters of Belgium poses with the trophy as he celebrates after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links Golf Course. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Championship winner Thomas Pieters of Belgium poses with the trophy as he celebrates after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links Golf Course. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Championship winner Thomas Pieters of Belgium poses with the trophy as he celebrates after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links Golf Course. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Thomas Pieters had enough with a level par 72 to win his first Rolex Series title as Shane Lowry's title challenge was derailed by a gut-wrenching triple-bogey seven at the opening hole in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links.

The Belgian (29) won by one stroke from Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello (70) and India's Shubhankar Sharma (71) on 10-under par as Lowry finished five shots behind after a disappointing 77.

The Offaly man ended up tied for 12th with Rory McIlroy, who got to within two shots of the lead after a mid-round purple patch before his charge petered out with three bogeys in his last five holes.

It was a tough one to swallow for 2019 champion Lowry, who got off to an excellent start by ripping his opening tee shot down the middle of the fairway.

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Shane Lowry of Ireland tees off on the first hole. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Shane Lowry of Ireland tees off on the first hole. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Shane Lowry of Ireland tees off on the first hole. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

But the world number 48 hit his 156-yard approach long and left into the desert, failed to make the green with his recovery and took four more shots to get down, three-putting from 35 feet for a morale-sapping seven.

He managed a birdie from eight feet at the fifth but ran up another seven at the 591-yard seventh, where he short-sided himself right in a deep swale from 138 yards and again took four more to get down from there, three-putting this time from just 18 feet.

There were few bright spots along the way, and he understandably had his head into his hands after tugging his tee shot into the creek at the 16th to drop another shot.

A hard lip-out from around three feet for birdie at the last summed up a day to forget.

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McIlroy saved the best for last but ended up turning a potential 65 in a 69 as he bogeyed three of his last five holes and tied for 12th with Lowry on five-under.

It was still encouraging nonetheless for the world number eight after his struggles in the wind on the first two days.

He birdied the second and fourth, bogeyed the sixth but then picked up five shots in a magical five-holes stretch in the middle of his round.

After spinning his 141-yard wedge back into the hole for an eagle two at the 481-yard ninth, he added birdies at the 10th, 12th and 13th to move into second place on eight-under.

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Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

He might have set a formidable target, but he drove into bushes left at the 14th and dropped a shot after being forced to take a penalty drop, then dropped another shot at the par-three 17th before snap hooking an adventurous three-wood into the creek at the 646-yard 18th.

"Yeah, disappointing," McIlroy said. "I think I have to look at how I played the first 13 holes. I obviously have to look at how I played the last five as well, but I can take the positives from the first 13 and learn from the loose shoots I hit coming in.

"The birdie on the 18th to make the cut on Friday was important. It was important to be here. It's never nice missing the cut first time out in the new year. It was certainly a step in the right direction."

He thought he might have a chance when he moved into second place with five holes to go.

"I thought if I played the last five in two-under and got to double digits, knowing how tough the finish was, I thought I'd have a decent chance," said McIlroy, who is looking forward to getting back to one of his old stomping grounds, the Emirates Golf Club, for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic next week alongside Lowry, Jonny Caldwell and Pádraig Harrington, who tied for 20th in Abu Dhabi after a final round 72.

"Honestly, just happy enough I got to play an extra two days," said McIlroy. "I had to make a birdie at the last on Friday night to be here and almost made most of the weekend. Played well yesterday. Played really well today through 13 and then a couple of loose shots coming in that cost me, but it was good to see where the game's at.

"It was good to get an extra couple of days golf going to Dubai next week. Obviously wasn't the finish I wanted today, but big picture-wise good to get another couple of days to play 36 holes, get a card in the hand and sort of assess where everything is and sort of know what to work on going into next week."

He added: "Hopefully get to Dubai with some favourable conditions next week. Don't feel like I've hit a full iron shot the last couple of days. All knock-down. Maybe some kinder weather would be nice going into next week."

Harrington was two-under for the day playing the 18th and poised for a top-10 finish when he hit his approach left into the creek and closed with a double-bogey seven to finish tied 20th on four-under after a 72.

As for Pieters, the Belgian's sixth DP World Tour victory saw him projected to move to 31st in the world from 69th.


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