The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship served up a final day feast for the fans today with the most dramatic finish in its 10-year history. Frenchman Gary Stal, ranked 357 in the world before the Championship, overturned an eight shot deficit against final day favourite Martin Kaymer to take an unexpected but well deserved victory.
Stal, who started the day tied in fifth place, shot a seven under par 65, his best round of the week, to finish at 19-under for the Championship and seal his maiden European Tour victory.
“It’s really crazy and I’m very happy to win this tournament,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to win, because when I saw the leaderboard, I saw Martin Kaymer on 24‑under, and thought it’s not possible.”
If his win was unexpected coming up the final stretch, it seemed downright impossible after the first few holes. Kaymer, who led the field by six shots overnight at 20-under, started birdie-birdie-par-birdie to go 23-under and 10 shots clear of the field, in a clear statement of intent. But the three-time Champion, who also holds the record winning score of 24-under, was to experience three nightmare holes. A bogey on the 6th was only his third all week – but was then followed by a double bogey on 9 and a triple bogey on 13.
“I’m surprised, and a little shocked,” Kaymer said. “I don’t really know how to put it into words. It was very, very surprising today. I started off well but hit a couple of bad tee shots which cost me a double bogey and a triple bogey.”
Kaymer’s troubles only encouraged the chasing field. Rory McIlroy birdied four of the back nine holes on the way to a 66, finishing in second place on 18-under, the fourth time he has been runner-up in Abu Dhabi. The Northern Irish star will look back with frustration on his third round 71, when the putts just refused to drop, after coming so close again.
“I hit every green today in regulation,” said McIlroy. “My only bogey was a 3‑putt. You know, tee‑to‑green, I can’t fault that. I feel like I’m hitting the ball very, very well. Obviously I didn’t putt as well as I would have liked this week, but all parts of my game feel pretty good.”
Thomas Pieters, two-under for the day, and Victor Dubuisson, shooting five-under, both had chances and finished tied for fourth at 16-under for the Championship.
The day belonged to Stal, though, with an outstanding performance against some of the world’s best players. Birdies on the 4th and the 6th were followed by a streak of four birdies in a row around the turn, before a three on the 16th edged him in front.
The Frenchman came close with a birdie putt from just off the green on 18, leaving him a simple tap-in victory – and a first prize purse of $450,000 that dwarfs his previous best of €39,700. Stal had two Challenge Tour victories to his name and having finished fifth last week, he was ready for an incredible day – and his beaming smile said it all as he received the prestigious Falcon Trophy on the 18th green.
The Abu Dhabi crowds, out in their tens of thousands over the previous three days, swelled during the day as word spread that a shock might be on the cards. Few could believe that ice-cool Kaymer’s lead was really under threat, given his record over The National course. But with a tag-line of ‘Expect the Unexpected’, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is used to delivering drama to the fans.
Faisal Al Sheikh, Director of Events Bureau for Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), which organises the Championship, said the excitement of the final day reflected Abu Dhabi’s special place on the European Tour.
“It’s been an amazing 10 years and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is now firmly established in the top echelons of world golf, and is the undisputed jewel in the Middle East golfing crown. Our fields since the inaugural 2006 tournament have included players from 26 countries who have boasted 358 European and PGA Tour titles between them; strength of field is a priority and this will continue in future years. Headlined by the amazing HSBC World of Sport, our Championship also provides the best off-course family entertainment in the region,” he said.
“We are confident the Championship will keep on growing and cement its place as one of the biggest events on the European Tour.”
On the 18th green for the Championship prize-giving ceremony was HH Sheikh Nahyan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Deputy Chairman and CEO – HSBC Middle East and North Africa.
HSBC Global Head of Sponsorship and Events Giles Morgan said: “The climax to this tournament tells you everything you need to know about the golfing world as we tee off 2015. It’s been an incredible week and Gary Stal has emerged as yet another young contender on golf’s global stage.
“This tournament has been a great platform for up and coming talent and this dramatic win shows us yet again that golf really is Anyone’s Game.”
European Tour Tournament Director Miguel Vidaor was awarded the 10-year anniversary ‘Spirit of the Championship’ accolade. Vidaor has played an integral role in the development of the Championship every year since its inception in 2006 and was today recognised for his service with the coveted award at the tournament’s 10-year closing ceremony.
More than 65,000 fans came to the National over the four days of the Championship.