James Donaldson was crowned Abu Dhabi’s latest golf giant today, as he held-off stiff challenges from world number five Justin Rose and Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen to win the eighth Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship by a single stroke.
A co-leader with Rose on Thursday evening, Donaldson, the current world number 47, remained in contention throughout the weekend after carding rounds of 70 and 69. Playing in the day’s penultimate pairing, two birdies on the front nine and a spirited run of three birdies down the back, including 14 and 15, secured the Welshman’s biggest career win and a cheque for US$450,000.
“Golf’s a funny game. You don’t win anything for ages and then two come along in a year,” said the 37-year-old, who broke his European Tour duck by winning last year’s Irish Open.
Expected to jump into the world’s top 30 following his Abu Dhabi Golf Club triumph, Donaldson found green-after-green in regulation and sunk huge birdie putts down the stretch. The only bogey on his card, an eight-footer on 18, set-up a nail-biting finale and the possibility of Abu Dhabi’s first-ever play-off.
With Rose chasing a wire-to-wire victory, the Englishman and playing partner Olesen both missed birdie chances in front of an expectant gallery to ensure Donaldson’s name joins those of Chris DiMarco, Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer and Robert Rock on the Falcon trophy.
“It’s pretty surreal really,” added Donaldson, after receiving the trophy from His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, the Championship organiser. “I’ve played really good all week although I’ve got away with murder up the last. I thought one of them would hole if not both; when both putts slipped by it was my week.”
After narrowly missing out on crowning his Abu Dhabi debut with a win, a magnanimous Rose confessed he had failed to capitalise. “It was a long, hard week to end up finishing second,” he said. “Jamie played a good round of golf today, which I expected. I did some things on the back nine that really, really counted but I was enjoying the last hole, trying to make birdie and force the playoff.”
Two shots off the lead at the start of the day, Olesen had briefly joined the leaders after birdies on holes four and five. Just as Olesen’s title tilt was taking shape, the National Course bared its teeth. The Dane drove into bushes off the sixth fairway and incurred a penalty drop and, with the wind knocked out his sails, the resulting double-bogey six dented the young hopeful’s charge.
Portugal’s Ricardo Santos finished fourth after a four-under par round of 68 pushed him up the leaderboard, while Branden Grace shot an imperious 65 to equal the week’s best round and finish fifth. With three bogeys hindering what could have been a record National Course return, the South Africa’s up-and-down scorecard featured a remarkable 10 birdies, including five over the last six holes.
“It was great, one of those rounds where everything got together,” said Grace. “The putter was hot.”
After flying under the radar for most of the Championship, David Howell was in contention to win his first European Tour event in seven years after carding five birdies through the first 10 holes. The Englishman’s challenge imploded in spectacular fashion on the 13th hole when he four-putted for a triple bogey seven. Howell eventually finished tied-sixth at nine-under.
After starting the week by issuing an ‘I want my trophy back’ rallying call, three-time Abu Dhabi champion Kaymer couldn’t make it four when a final round 69 left him at nine-under alongside Howell and Holland’s Joost Luiten - one of the day’s big movers with a five-under par round of 67.
America’s Jason Dufner, making his Abu Dhabi debut with Etihad Airways pilot Brian Mullen carrying his bag, posted a 68 to finish one shot further back in an eight-man tie for joint-ninth.
“What an amazing festival of golf,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, TCA Abu Dhabi. “With some 61,240 fans passing through the gates and millions around the world watching on TV, the events in Abu Dhabi have got the world of sport talking. From fallen giants to emerging heroes, family fun in the Village to world-class action on the fairways, the Championship has proven once again that it is one of the biggest dates on the global golf calendar.”