Rory McIlroy empathises as Martin Kaymer throws win away
All week, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer stared down from giant roadside hoardings here, warning everyone to 'Expect the Unexpected' at the Abu Dhabi Championship, but what actually happened in the Arabian Desert was utterly incredible.
Two-time Major champion and former World No 1 Kaymer, one of the golf's coolest operators, became the unlikely fall guy in this 'tale of the unexpected' as he slumped to an astonishing mid-round collapse on a course where he has won three times.
Astoundingly, the German choked up a 10-shot lead to give the unheralded Gary Stal the opportunity to claim a first European Tour victory which even the 22-year-old Frenchman hadn't dreamed possible until he caught sight of a tournament scoreboard on his way to the 15th tee.
McIlroy, whom Stal readily admits is one of his heroes on Tour, was also stunned to be thrust into contention with four holes remaining, though the World No 1 had to be content with his fourth runner-up finish in five years in Abu Dhabi after a six-under-par 66 left him one behind the winner.
After his valiant last-ditch attempt to catch Stal down the stretch - which culminated in a thrilling bunker shot at 18 which brought McIlroy within a hair's breadth of eagle and a play-off but Stal (22) sealed his one-stroke win on 19-under with a par five at 18 for a flawless, closing 65,
Ryder Cup star Kaymer's utter domination of the first 54 holes, which left him six ahead of his closest challenger, Thomas Pieters, entering the final round, rendered it unthinkable that anyone else might win this event.
"Going out today, my goal was to finish second," McIlroy admitted.
"I didn't think I was going to get close to winning the tournament. It just shows you, funny things can happen in this game."
After thrusting himself firmly into contention at halfway with the help of his first hole-in-one in a professional tournament at 15 on Friday, McIlroy believed he had relinquished any hope of victory during his third-round 71.
Starting the fourth round eight behind Kaymer, the catalyst came at eight, when McIlroy invited his caddie, Dubliner JP Fitzgerald, to assist him in reading the line of his putts and duly completed a hat-trick of birdies, holing from four feet at eight, six feet at nine and 20 feet at 10, before picking up another three at 13, 15 and the last.
McIlroy expressed sympathy for Kaymer, clearly referring to his own Sunday afternoon implosion at the 2011 Masters as he said: "I know what it's like to let a lead slip. It's tough, you have a couple of bad swings and some guys start making birdies.
"All of a sudden, from being very comfortable, you're put under a little bit of pressure and it's very hard to come back."
Kaymer had appeared at his invincible Abu Dhabi best as he scooted to 23-under with birdies on three of his opening four holes yesterday yet the mask slipped when he made his first bogey in 48 holes at the fifth, followed by a double-bogey six at nine and the horrific treble-bogey seven at 13 that sent him tumbling out of the lead.
"I'm surprised, a little shocked. I really don't know how to put it into words," said Kaymer after signing for the final-round 75 that left him in third on 17-under.
"When you miss fairways usually you get away with it okay. You don't make double or treble-bogey."