ABU DHABI: Rickie Fowler won his fourth title since May last year, producing magical shots en route to clinching the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
The world No.6 had taken the outright lead when third round play was completed early Sunday morning, and then protected his lead with solid play and pulling off crunch shots when needed most.
He finished with a three-under par 69 round for a four-day tally of 16-under par 272, one better than long-hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters, who closed with a five-under par 67.
World No.3 Rory McIlroy (68) made an eagle on the 18th hole and world number five Henrik Stenson (67) made three birdies in his last four holes to finish on 14-under par 274, but that was never going to be enough to catch the rock-solid Fowler.
The 27-year-old American, who is expected to rise to number four in the world rankings when it is released on Monday, made an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole – a perfect response to a double bogey on the previous hole where he skulled his second shot from the native area.
And then, as he surveyed his chip shot from edge of the green on the 17th hole, a loud roar went up signifying McIlroy making an eagle on the 18th and moving to 14 under.
Fowler calmly walked up to the ball and chipped in for a birdie to move two shots clear of McIlroy and Stenson as well as his playing partner Pieters.
On the 18th, Pieters made a birdie but Fowler got his par without any issues and wrapped up his win.
World No.1 Jordan Spieth fired a four-under par 68 on the final day to finish at 11-under par 277 and in tied fifth place.
“This was a big one. Last year, obviously having multiple-win season, but to come back and work on getting back in the winner’s circle after a successful season and keep moving forward; this is a great start,” said Fowler, who also won the Scottish Open on the European Tour last year apart from the Players Championship and Deutsche Bank Championship on the PGA Tour.
“Obviously a great field here. The course was in perfect shape. It was a lot of fun today. It was a bit stressful at times.
“I just made a bad swing on the seventh, so kind of deserved a little bit of a penalty there. Got a bit of a bad break having a boulder underneath the ball there.
“So nothing I can really do about that. I walk away with five and then go to the next hole and just try to hop back on the horse. Hit a perfect bunker shot there.
“When something happens like that, it definitely gives you a little boost of confidence knowing that you’ve got a good break with that after having a bad break, and sometimes you need to have little luck on your side to get some wins.”
Pieters, who won twice on the European Tour last year, came agonizingly close to forcing a play-off, but his eagle putt on the 18th from 25 feet stopped inches short.
“A little bit disappointed. Played pretty good today. Doesn’t get much better: Perfect weather, good company. Just looking forward to next week now,” said Pieters, who had finished third in Abu Dhabi last year.
“I didn’t do much wrong today. Maybe stay a little bit calmer, but I think I did that too. Next time maybe some more putts drop, that’s it.”
McIlroy was disappointed to finish runner-up for the fifth time in Abu Dhabi, and said: “That 68 was the best I could have done.
“I played well, but a stretch of 18 holes, the back nine yesterday and the front nine today, I was one-over par. You can’t do that against a field like this.”
Stenson, who has pulled out of next week’s Qatar Masters to rest his knee and leg, was happy with how he finished.
“This is a really encouraging start to the season. I had not even started walking properly when I came here for the tournament, so the first round was huge for me,” he said.
“I then played poorly for some holes in the second round, but overall, I am very proud of this finish,” he added.
The next stop of the European Tour’s Desert Swing is the Qatar Masters in Doha, while Fowler flies back to the US to play the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines.