Abu Dhabi ends amid different script
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The week began with the famous Sean Foley client as well as the newest Nike endorser grabbing all the headlines, creating the buzz and towering over the rest of the field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
But in the end, unheralded Jamie Donaldson earned the victory at the $2.7 million tournament, the Welshman taking home far less than either of the tournament headliners who bowed out on Friday with their appearance fees still intact.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were long gone when Donaldson, a journeyman on the European Tour, 3-putted the final green to give both Justin Rose Thorbjorn Olesen (who also just made the change over to Nike clubs like McIlroy) a chance to force a playoff. Neither Rose nor Olesen could get birdie putts to drop on the 18th green, however, leaving Donaldson a winner for the second time in his career.
For the second straight year, an under-the-radar player whom nobody was talking about amid all the pretournament hype walked off with the Falcon trophy.
Last year it was Englishman Robert Rock, who outplayed Woods in the final round to secure his second European Tour title, with McIlroy finishing second and Woods tied for third.
This year it was Donaldson, who managed a final-round 68 to surge past 54-hole leader Rose. Donaldson's lone previous victory was at last year's Irish Open.
"Obviously the lads, some of the top names, didn't make the cut," said Donaldson, 37, who earned $450,000 for the victory -- or less than half of what McIlroy received just to show up and some $2.5 million less than Woods.
Rose, who like Woods works with Foley and has been playing well for months, led after each of the first three rounds and appeared poised to capture his season-opening event after a strong end to 2012 in which he starred for the European Ryder Cup team, won a lucrative exhibition in Turkey and finished outside of the top 11 just once in his last six starts, including a runner-up to McIlroy eight weeks ago in Dubai.
"You want to close out with a chance to win when you have it and didn't do that today, but I didn't do a lot wrong, either," said Rose, 32, a five-time winner on the European Tour as well as a four-time winner on the PGA Tour; he won the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral last year, a victory that counts on both circuits.
Abu Dhabi Golf Championship Leaderboard
1. Jamie Donaldson (-14)
T-2. Justin Rose (-13)
T-2. Thorbjorn Olesen (-13)
4. Ricardo Santos (-11)
5. Branden Grace (-10)
• Complete scores
"It's hard to beat yourself up about it. Jamie played a good round of golf today and Thorbjorn did as well. I did some things on the back nine that really, really counted, to be honest. I made some good putts and I hit a good putt at 18. I really was enjoying that last hole to try to make birdie, force the [playoff]. And made four-and-a-half."
Rose has been working with Foley for several years and has often credited his instructor's help to get his game turned around. It was hard to find much fault with Rose's performance here, other than coming up 1 shot short. Rose heads to the Qatar Masters this week before returning to the United States and his PGA Tour schedule.
Olesen, like McIlroy, is 23. Earlier this year, like McIlroy, who is also 23, he signed with Nike. Both are from Europe.
Of course, the similarities end there, as there are likely a few extra zeroes on McIlroy's endorsement checks and a far meatier résumé. Nonetheless, Olesen, who is from Denmark, has proved himself to be a solid up-and-coming player.
He contended in Abu Dhabi last year and was paired with Woods during the third round of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, where he shot 1 stroke higher that day but came away feeling good about himself and went on to tie for ninth.
"It was a dream for me to play with him, especially in a major, in the second-to-last group," said Olesen, who went on to capture the Italian Open later in the year. "And I got a lot of confidence from it. I started a bit shaky but played well and got more belief in myself. It was nice."
Olesen later won the Italian Open for his first tour title and finished among the top 50 in the world at the end of the year, meaning a Masters invitation to play this April. Olesen is also expected to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play and WGC-Cadillac Championship in the coming months.
Like McIlroy, Olesen showed up in Nike gear this year and a bag full of new clubs, but he got his first taste of it in competition last week at the Volvo Champions in South Africa, where he tied for 31st. Few outside of Denmark new of his new affiliation, one that became a source of irony given McIlroy's struggles this week.
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"He was under a lot of pressure," Olesen said of McIlroy. "It was probably good for me that nobody concentrated on me and I could do my own thing."
That wasn't the case for Rose, who led nearly the entire tournament, a surprise to no one as he is the fifth-ranked player in the world. If he were to consult with Foley, there wouldn't be much to say other than to keep on doing what you're doing -- and maybe get some good fortune, with a putt on the last green that lipped out.
"It reminded me exactly of the putt at 18 against Phil [Mickelson] at Medinah," Rose said of the birdie he dropped to pull out a huge singles match on the final day of the Ryder Cup, one that helped fuel Europe's comeback. "Just outside right edge and that's exactly where I hit it, and unfortunately this time the putt didn't go in for me.
"Would I swap it? No, I wouldn't."
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