By Bernie McGuire in Abu Dhabi.
For 16-years the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has been the starting point for many of the best competing on the now renamed DP World Tour.
The tournament in the UAE capital has also seen some of the best in the world win on the National course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club that boasts the stunning falcon clubhouse. And winning the equally stunning falcon trophy has been a who’s who in golf including double-major winning Martin Kaymer, who’s won the event three times along with Ireland’s own Shane Lowry, who won from start-to-finish in 2019.
In 2013, Abu Dhabi was where Nike fan-fared Rory McIlroy joining their team of golf ambassadors in a multi-million dollar deal though there’s probably no other event McIlroy has contested in his career where he’s been so close, so often to victory.
In fact, in 10 appearances, McIlroy has been runner-up four times and has five other top-five results and no doubt hoping a change of venue this year to Yas Links can help break his Abu Dhabi duck.
Anyway, here’s a look at some of the memorable moments over the past 16-years of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
2006 – DiMarco Wins Maiden Tournament With Wife As Caddy (Prince Andrew At Presentation Ceremony)
Event organisers jumped on American Chris DiMarco’s popularity by extending the then World No. 11 an invitation to tee-up in the inaugural 2006 Abu Dhabi Championship.
Nine months earlier DiMarco had lost out in a play-off to Tiger Woods at the Masters. It was the Masters where Woods played ‘that’ chip-shot at the par-3 16th with his Nike ball seemingly taking forever to fall into the cup; close-up TV footage Nike could not buy.
The Florida-born DiMarco had three times on the PGA Tour with his third and final win on the Tour being his one-stroke victory in the 2002 Phoenix Open.
DiMarco arrived in the UAE accompanied by his wife, Amy who spent the week caddying for her husband for the first time in a regular tour event.
He signed for a first-round 71 to by lying in a share of 22nd place before a day two 67 pushed his up to a tie for fifth, however things got a little more serious for the DiMarco’s when they teamed to shoot a new National Course record of 63 that put DiMarco into second place and just a shot behind Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
DiMarco posted a final round 67 for a 20 under par total of 268 and a one-shot victory over Stenson, who pushed the American all the way to the final green. In attendance at the presentation ceremony was the now embattled Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
DiMarco returned to the European Tour five months later and for the second occasion in his career, he finished runner-up to Woods in a Major and this time two shots behind in the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
Di Marco competed in one other regular European Tour event and that was the 2008 Ballantine’s Championship ending in a share of 18th place.
2007 to 2011 – Paul Casey & Martin Kaymer Win Five Falcon Trophies
From years 2007 to 2011 two players dominated the Abu Dhabi Championship – Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer
Casey won the 2007 hosting of the event by a shot with Kaymer breaking through for the first of now 11 DP World Tour wins a year later. Then in 2009, Casey denied Kaymer a successful defence of his title with the Englishman winning by a stroke. It was Casey’s first victory since his 2007 Abu Dhabi success and a ninth of now 15 DP World Tour wins.
In 2010, Kaymer won in Abu Dhabi for a second time and it was the first of four victories that year for the German and capped by his stunning PGA Championship triumph at Whistling Straits.
Kaymer had teed up in 2010 with a metal plate in his right foot from a go-kart crash the summer before and declared in winning: “That was the nicest round of golf I have ever played on the European Tour.”
Rory McIlroy had been placed third that year and would then figure very strongly in four of the next five events. Kaymer then became the first and still three-time winner in 2011, with the event being sponsored by banking giant HSBC for the first time in 2011.
Kaymer’s victory saw him overtake Woods and move to No. 2 in the World Rankings before reaching the pinnacle of the rankings two events later in being runner-up in the WGC – Accenture Match-Play Championship.
McIlroy, wearing sunglasses, was in the last group with Kaymer and finished runner-up for the first of four times in the next five Abu Dhabi events.
2013 – McIlroy Signs With Nike
An Abu Dhabi hotel was the stage for the announcement ahead of the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship that Rory McIlroy had signed a multi-million- dollar deal with Nike.
However, it was not the start neither McIlroy nor Nike sought with the Northern Irishman crashing out with a pair of 75s. Welshman Jamie Donaldson, the then reigning Irish Open champion, claimed a one-shot success to capture his second Tour win.
2012 – Robert Rock Outguns Tiger Woods
After losing the 2009 Irish Open to Shane Lowry, Robert Rock had finally broken through to capture the 2011 Italian Open, but when the then World No. 117 teed-up in the final round of the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship alongside the World No. 1 Tiger Woods there was not many predicting Rock would remain true to his surname.
Rock, sporting a very distinct ‘Black Star’ clothing logo on his shirt, did just that denying Woods in closing with a two-under-par 70 for a total of 13-under par total of 275 and a one-shot win over McIlroy (69) and with Woods (72) sharing third a further stroke back level with Thomas Bjorn of Denmark (68), and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (68).
Rock’s win was a stunning, against the odds victory for the 34-year-old Englishman who had admitted to feeling starry-eyed after learning on Saturday that he would be playing alongside Woods in the final grouping.
“I can’t believe I’ve done that,” Rock said. “To win today is such an amazing feeling.”
Looking back, it was Rock’s second tournament win in 228 attempts but more than this win in the UAE capital, it was the scalp of the then 14-times major winner that counted most for Rock. For Woods, it was a bitter blow as he had looked set to win a ‘full’ tournament for the first time since November 2009.
2014 – ‘Stupid Rule’ sees McIlroy Post The Least Number Of Strokes But Finish Runner-Up
Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal captured the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship but it was Rory McIlroy, and eventually runner-up for a third time, who hit the fewest number of strokes.
McIlroy played the third round in the company of Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez whose caddy was the now-deceased Scottish-born caddy Dave Rennick, the long-time caddy to major winners Jose Maria Olazabal, Aussie Steve Elkington and Fijian Vijay Singh.
McIlroy was in a then share of second place on 10-under par after 17 holes and tied with Phil Mickelson (63) and India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar (66) when he was approached coming down the 18th hole by Renwick and advised that he should not hand in his scorecard.
Renwick advised McIlroy he believed he had not taken ‘full relief’, under the Rules of Golf, in taking a ‘free’ drop from a grass spectator crossing on the second hole.
There was a 45-minute review of the matter with Renwick adamant McIlroy’s left foot was still on the white line of the spectator walkway when he played his second shot.
As TV footage could not determine whether McIlroy’s foot was inside the white line, all parties headed back to the second hole where McIlroy reluctantly confirmed he had in fact not taken full relief.
Chief Referee, John Paramor had no option but to inform McIlroy to add two strokes under Rule 25-1 to his second hole score of five, and instead of signing for a 68, the 24-year-old had to sign for a 70.
The incident sent McIlroy from second to a share of fourth place on nine under par and it meant Scotland’s Craig Lee, who was seeking a first-ever Tour success, played the last day of the $2.7m event in the company of Mickelson.
“I’d like to think now that what happened today can give me that little bit of extra motivation, not that winning this tournament isn’t motivation enough,” said McIlroy at the time. “But stuff like this, it’s sort of stupid. There’s a lot of stupid rules and this is one of them.”
While bitterly disappointed, McIlroy said he had no animosity towards Renwick.
“No, I have no problem with Dave as you have to adhere to the rules of this game and he was pointing out something he thought was questionable,” said McIlroy. “Dave was just doing what I guess anyone would do.”
2015 – Stal in Tears After Kaymer Blows Eight-Shot Lead & McIlroy Again Runner-Up
Frenchman Gary Stal broke down in tears dedicating his maiden European Tour victory at the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship win to his late mother, Christine.
Stal, 22 shocked the golf world with the World No. 357th coming from eight shots behind overnight leader, Martin Kaymer, to win by a stroke with a final round 65 for a 19-under par victory tally.
The Lyon-born golfer’s prior best finish in the European Tour was fifth and that was the week before in the South African Open.
Stal’s victory was helped when Germany’s Martin Kaymer squandered a 10-shot lead to win on the 10th anniversary Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Kaymer, looking to win the event for the fourth time, was left shell-shocked after posting a 75 for third place at 17-under par.
“I am surprised, a little shocked and I don’t really know how to put it into words,” he said
And Kaymer survived a rules scare when a TV armchair critic phoned to complain after marking his ball on the 12th green, Kaymer handed the ball to his Scottish caddy, Craig Connelly before Kaymer then walked to the other side of the flagstick to survey his putt and with Connelly placing Kaymer’s ball a few feet behind the marker so Kaymer could better see the putt. Tournament Director, Miguel Vidador naturally cleared Kaymer of any rules breach.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy had put new Nike ‘Engage’ wedges in his bag, and despite a last day 66, it was a third day 71 that spoilt his hopes of a first win in the tournament.
Bizarrely, the celebratory catchphrase for the week was ‘Expect the Unexpected’ and that’s what transpired in the UAE capital.
2017 & 2018 – Fleetwood Wins Back-To-Back
Tommy Fleetwood won the second tournament of his career in 2017 in winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by holding off Dustin Johnson and 2014 Abu Dhabi winner Pablo Larrazabal who shared second.
The English golfer arrived at the 2018 event as the reigning European No. 1 and there was a double celebration for Fleetwood celebrating his 27th birthday on day two and then on day four, he birdied six of his final holes in a seven-under-par 65 round to finish on 22-under 267.
Fleetwood said: “I had the year of my life last year (2017). I know everybody has been talking about it, and just backing it up is the next big thing, really. It’s a weird feeling coming to defend a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away.”
Fleetwood’s win in Abu Dhabi and a second at the US Open saw him qualify automatically for the European Ryder Cup team. Rory McIlroy finished inside the top-five once again — his eighth top-five in nine Abu Dhabi starts — but he was happy with the result this time.
2019 – Shane Lowry Goes Wire-To-Wire To End 4-Year Victory Drought
It was the first of two appearances in 2019 at a victory presentation for Shane Lowry’s daughter, Iris. Lowry’s wire-to-wire victory at the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Invitational ended a four-year winless drought for the Irishman.
The then World No. 75, having lost his PGA Tour card, tied the course record with an opening-round 62 first set by Henrik Stenson in the maiden 2006 championship.
Lowry kept the lead over the next two days to take a three-shot lead into day four but knew he had a fight on his hands when playing partner Richard Sterne birdied four of his opening five holes. Lowry was then two-over after 11-holes and now four shots behind Sterne.
However, Lowry dug deep to birdie 12 and 13 before finding himself back tied for the lead after Sterne bogeyed 14 and 16, with the pair sharing the lead coming down the last ahead of Lowry managing a closing birdie and winning by a shot.
“I completely thought I was gone, to be honest,” said Lowry. I just tried to put Richard under as much pressure as I could. But I didn’t think I had that in me today.”
The victory lifted Lowry to 41st in the world. Thirteen events later, daughter Iris was again present on a presentation green Lowry was handed the gleaming Claret Jug.
2020 – Lee Westwood Makes It Wins In Four Different Decades
Lee Westwood joined a very elite European Tour club in becoming only the third player to win Tour titles in four different decades with his two-shot victory in the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Westwood’s success saw the 46-year-old England golfer join Des Smyth and Mark McNulty as the only golfers in European Tour history to win over four decades.
The reigning European No. 1 shut out his Abu Dhabi rivals with a powerhouse last day 67 to win by two shots with a 19-under par tally.
“It’s been a good week,” he said smiling. “I can’t believe I’m old. It’s getting harder to win.”
The win was Westwood’s 44th worldwide and his 25th on the European Tour. Westwood claimed a first Tour win in 1996, a 10th in 2000, a 21st in 2011 and now matching Smyth and McNulty.
2021 – Hatton Outguns McIlroy
England’s Tyrrell Hatton out-gunned Rory McIlroy over the final round taking Route 66 in a mistake-free last day to claim his sixth European Tour title at the 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The 29-year-old Hatton had battled McIlory for the opening three rounds, but a closing 72 saw McIlory finish five shots off the lead.
McIlroy kick-started his opening round of 2021 with a leading 64 that helped divert attention from his good friend Justin Thomas who had arrived engulfed in controversy after muttering a homophobic slur during the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Hatton, as the reigning BMW PGA champion, started the last day one back of McIlroy, with victory lifting the soon-to-be-married Hatton to a career-high of No. 5 in the World Rankings.
“It’s surreal, to be honest,” said Hatton. “Even there, knocking the putt in on 18, it doesn’t feel like I’ve won the tournament.”
After his opening 64, McIlroy shot scores of 72, 67, and 72 with his cause not helped in posting four last-day bogeys to finish third. It was McIlroy’s ninth top-5 in 10 Abu Dhabi starts.