Golf round-up: McIlroy left to rue blunder as Larrazabal outguns top two
Rory McIlroy settles for a tie for second alongside Phil Mickelson as Pablo Larrazabal claimed his fifth European Tour crown
They say lightning never strikes twice. However, Rory McIlroy will have good reason to argue against that theory.
For the second time in three years, a naive rules blunder proved decisive for the Northern Irishman as Pablo Larrazabal upstaged both McIlroy and Phil Mickelson to lift his third European title at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Only me and my team know how much we’ve worked during the last three years
Mickelson was also left to lament an uncharacteristic error, as he squandered the lead with a few holes to go by taking a seven on the par-four 13th, allowing Larrazabal and the chasing pack back into contention and the Spaniard made no mistake to move inside the world’s top 50.
Although, he didn’t make it easy for himself.
After playing an exquisite bunker shot on eight and an equally stunning approach on 13, Larrazabal found the heart of the 18th green in two. But, a wayward first putt meant he was left with a tricky seven-footer for birdie and a two-shot lead.
Nonetheless, he held his nerve, forcing the American left-hander to eagle for a play-off after McIlroy could only birdie.
Still smarting from Saturday’s two-shot penalty, McIlroy wasted no time in eradicating Craig Lee’s three-shot lead but Larrazabal produced a final round 67 to finish on 14-under par, one shot clear of the 24-year-old and Mickelson, who couldn’t find a three on the last.
“It feels great,” said Larrazábal. “Only me and my team know how much we’ve worked during the last three years.
“I want to thank so many people starting with my brand Callaway – they set up a driver I hit 20-25 metres further. Then I want to thank my team and my girlfriend. It’s just unbelievable.
“The birdie at 13 gave me the confidence to keep it going and I hit great shots coming in. The five wood at 18 is maybe the best shot of my golfing career.”
It’s frustrating – I’ve played well the whole week
Rory Mc Ilroy
McIlroy carded a closing 68 to finish tied for second alongside Mickelson, who had recovered admirably from the nightmare 13th with three birdies in his last five holes.
The Northern Irishman was well in contention in the desert during Sunday but a string of missed opportunities combined with that incorrect drop meant he was left to ponder what might have been.
“It’s frustrating – I’ve played well the whole week,” said McIlroy, who is ranked seventh in the world. “It’s a very positive start to the season so I’m not going to let one little negative ruin that.
“I came in here telling everyone that I’m really happy with my game and done some good work and felt like it was coming together for me at the end of last year. I’ve continued that on, so I’m really excited for the rest of the season.
“I’ve got a week off now to prepare for Dubai and give it another run there and see if I can get the win there.”
Overnight leader Lee eventually finish with a 77, slipping down to a tie for tenth while George Coetzee and Rafa Cabrera-Bello finished tied for fourth on 12-under.
Meanwhile, on the PGA Tour, Patrick Reed overcame a late surge from in-form Zach Johnson to with the Humana Challenge in California.
Reed posted three consecutive rounds of 63 to open up a seven-shot lead heading into the final round on Sunday but 2007 Master Champion Johnson shot a 62 to close the gap.
Nonetheless, Reed prevailed by two shots over Ryan Palmer to claim his second tour win.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was a lot less stressful than I thought,” Reed said.
“To birdie 15 and know I sealed it then, it felt comfortable, it felt great,” he added.
“I was able to play the last three holes just for par rather than trying to make birdies or trying to make something happen.”
He was on the 18th tee when Ryan Palmer made eagle to cut the deficit to two shots again. Reed laid up on the reachable par-5 18th and made an easy par to secure the two-shot victory.