The question is when will Rory regain his form and possibly momentum to challenge Tiger as the number one player in the world. His play at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the opening event on the European Tour schedule, would indicate that he is closer than others think. The old Rory was on display all week swinging with good balance and showing precise direction and distance control throughout the bag.
Mcilroy’s game was on but his lack of rules knowledge cost him big timeEmbed from Getty Images
But Rory’s chance at winning this championship was seriously derailed by an unforced error on the second hole in round three resulting in a two-stroke penalty after the round. This was a mistake that just should not have occurred-he violated a well known rule that he learned from the earliest days of his junior career. His drive into the left rough on Saturday ended up on the marked spectator crossing path which afforded him free relief clear of the path. After he dropped his ball without penalty he failed to notice that his foot was on the white line demarcation of the path. By rule his stance after the drop must be clear of the marked area to constitute full relief, failing to do so and playing the shot results in a two-stroke penalty.
Being apprised of the violation at the end of his round Rory and a tour official went back to the scene of the crime and recognized from the position of his divot relative to the path line that he had indeed violated the rule of total relief. His 68 became a 70 before he signed his card and all of a sudden instead of tied for the lead he was a pursuer two shots back.
It had to seem like deja vu all over again for Rory. Two years earlier he missed by one making the sudden death playoff for this championship incurring a two-shot penalty in round two for brushing away sand on his line while his ball was not on the putting surface. Seems like a one-on-one rules retreat with Slugger White might be a good investment of his time.
His play on Sunday was solid, driving the ball well and hitting his approach irons with precision as he had done all week. But his putting was not sharp and he edged a number of good birdie opportunities down the back nine never closing the gap on the leaders. The final round 68 once again left him one behind and a bridesmaid. Rory took some solace in the fact that without the penalty he played the four rounds in less strokes than everyone else and his competitive game seems to have returned.
Phil Mickelson had an important role in the evolving drama. After a couple of indifferent rounds Phil barely made the half way cut, making the $2 million appearance fee he supposedly got for making this trip half way around the world seem a bit generous. But Phil The Thrill played lights out on Saturday shooting 63 with 9 birdies, 1 eagle, and low 20‘s in putts. Jumping up 40 plus spots on the leader board his 11-under total was just one off the lead and earned him a spot in the final group on Sunday.
The plot thickened because Phil did what Phil always does. After three birdies in the first eleven holes on Sunday, he had the lead in hand when he stepped on the tee at the thirteenth. He proceeded to deposit a wayward drive under a prickly bush well left of the travelled playing area. Turning down the option of an unplayable and a one stroke penalty, Phil flipped over a long iron and tried to punch it out right handed into the adjacent sandy waste area. The ball clipped the pricklies and the resultant double hit on the face of the iron cost him another shot and left him in the bush. He now had to relent, take the unplayable, and ended up with a messy triple bogey seven dropping him three from the lead with five to play.
Once again Phil rose from the ashes, making birdies on two of the next three, closing quickly in the rear view of the leader in the group ahead. A drive and a fairway metal set up a potential eagle on the last that would have forced a playoff but the long putt from just east of Qatar never threatened the hole and his final round 69 left Phil tied for second with Rory the Golden Boy.
Pablo Larrazabal had the last exclamation point for this championship winEmbed from Getty Images
The real story was the 30-year old Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal who outgrinded them all. With a 5-under 67 on Sunday he ignored the glare of two of golf’s luminaries on the way to a 14-under winning total. Only one bogie on the front side Pablo showed an adept short game on the inward half saving important pars to keep abreast of Rory and Mickey. It was a pair of clutch birdies on 11 and 13 that gave him the lead and a two-putt birdie on the last resulted in a full Seve fist pump, an exclamation point to his third win on the European Tour.
Larrazabal was honest in the post game interview saying of the ten-footer he made for birdie on the last “Thank God it went in, because I would not be here if I had to go to a playoff with Phil and Rory.” With it all on the line it was Pablo who outplayed Rory and Phrantic Phil and, for now at least, is the front runner in the 2014 Race To Dubai.