Rock on: Englishman stares Woods and McIlroy down
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

In his early years as a member of the European Tour, Robert Rock developed a reputation – contrary to his best efforts, of course – as a player who could be relied upon to wilt in the face of the game’s sterner challenges. A naturally gifted ball-striker with a golf swing every bit as traditonal as his tousled side-parting, the Staffordshire native excelled at delivering an end product severely at odds with his promise.
Today, however, the 34-year-old atoned for years of underperformance with a one-shot victory at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Not only did the the Englishman break par on Sunday for the fourth round in succession, he did so while playing in the company of 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, a man whose reputation as the game’s greatest ever exponent rests on a nearly unblemished history of bludgeoning playing partners into submission.

If Rock didn’t quite turn the tables this afternoon, he refused to be overawed by the occasion, taking advantage of Woods’ early inconsistency to record a hat-trick of birdies in the opening six holes. Though he played the final 13 more tentatively, he exhibited a stubborn refusal to cede the initiative to a handful of his more accomplished peers.

A bogey at the 13th dropped him to within a shot of a chasing pack that included US Open champion Rory McIlroy (69), but the Englishman immediately birdied the next to restore a sense of equilibrium, eventually reaching the sanctuary of the clubhouse to record a two-under-par 70 and aggregate total of 13-under-par.

A birdie at the closing hole saw McIlroy step from a group of four players to seize sole possession of second place, but his challenge was less robust than a final, one-shot margin of defeat would suggest; Rock played the eighteenth safe in the knowledge that a bogey would see him over the line.

Woods (72), whose tentative final round performance underscored the extent to which his rehabilitation is still ongoing, finished the day in a tie for third alongside a resurgent Graeme McDowell (68) and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (68).

Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, who began yesterday’s third round on the periphery of contention, closed with a one-over-par 73 to finish the tournament in a tie 35th.

Conor Nagle

Reproduced with permission from TheScore.ie