- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The steady, solid play that marked Tiger Woods' golf through his first three rounds of the year in the Middle East suddenly and surprisingly left him Sunday.
Attempting to win an official event for the first time in 26 months, Woods instead finished third to unheralded Robert Rock, an Englishman who won for just the second time in his European Tour career by capturing the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Rory McIlroy finished second, a shot behind Rock, who bogeyed the 18th hole to win by a shot over the Northern Irishman.
Rock had never met Woods prior to Saturday and had never played a golf tournament with such a glare, even in winning his only other title last year at the Italian Open.
"This has been an amazing week for me,'' said Rock who shot a final-round 70 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and finished in the top 10 for the 24th time in a 10-year career; Woods has 83 worldwide victories including 14 major championships.
But Rock was the much steadier player, matching Woods' early birdies and then letting the former No. 1 player in the world make mistakes.
"I just felt I was a touch off,'' said Woods, who can at least claim he has now been in the top three --- with an unofficial victory -- in his past three stroke-play events. "Obviously the ultimate goal is to win and I didn't win. I played well enough I thought to win the golf tournament. Unfortunately I just didn't get it done.''
Woods had made just two bogeys heading into the final round, but made three Sunday; he hit 46 of 54 greens through 54 holes, then managed to hit just five during the final round. He finished with an even-par 72.
It all led to a disappointing day for Woods, who was seemingly poised to win for the first time in an official event since capturing the 2009 Australian Masters.
Woods won the Chevron World Challenge last month, an unofficial tournament that benefits his foundation but one that does award world ranking points.
Woods failed to win when holding at least a share of the final-round lead for the ninth time in 64 worldwide opportunities.
Or another way to look at it: It was the third time in his last five tries that he lost a 54-hole lead.
It could also be called a bit of a disappointment for world No. 3 McIlroy, who began the day two strokes back of co-leaders Rock and Woods but could not apply the necessary pressure.
A two-shot penalty in Friday's round for a careless mistake near a green was ultimately huge for McIlroy.
"You've got to take the positives,'' said McIlroy, who plays again in two weeks at the tournament in Dubai. "It's the first week of the year, second year in a row here that I'll finish second. But still a very good start to the season and something I'll build on.''
Rock had joked on Saturday that he expected to be "cacking'' himself -- British slang for soiled -- playing with Woods. "I'm not sure how much sleep I'll get, either,'' he said.
But Rock was steady -- even after Woods got a huge break by holing a 50-foot birdie putt at the second hole, a par 5 he had played poorly. Woods then hit his second shot stiff at the third hole, but Rock matched his birdie and the duo was tied.
But Woods followed with consecutive bogeys and it was a struggle the rest of the way. He pulled within a stroke with a birdie at the ninth, but bogeyed the par-5 10th. Rock did him a favor by bogeying the 13th, but got a 2-stroke advantage back with a birdie at the 14th.
Woods, just a bit off with his tee shots, was unable to put on the necessary pressure over the closing holes. He had said Saturday he needed to put together a solid round, that even par would not do it.
And he was right.
Woods skipped the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines to accept an appearance fee to play in Abu Dhabi for the first time. He will make his PGA Tour debut Feb. 9 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com.
The steady, solid play that marked Tiger Woods' golf through his first three rounds of the year in the Middle East suddenly and surprisingly left him Sunday.