America’s ‘Mr Cool’ Rickie Fowler has soared to fourth in the world golf rankings after dominating a super-star field to capture his first Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Falcon Trophy in front of packed galleries at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Returning to the emirate for a second year running, the 27-year-old remained calm and collected to finish at 16 under par, holding off a surging pack that included world number one Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Pieters, the young Belgian ranked 88 in the world.
Following two days of unexpected early fog delays, play got underway on time with The National course looking in pristine condition throughout a glorious sun-swept day that saw fans sweep through the gates across the showpiece ‘Desert Swing’ opener.
Fowler looked comfortable from the beginning, opening up a two-shot advantage leading into the fourth round to sit at 13 under and setting up what would become one of the tightest finishes of the Championship to date.
“It was tough out there today,” Fowler said. “I've been swinging well and continued to get better as the week's gone on. Today I felt like I was probably swinging my best. I only made a couple of bad swings out there today, but I was pleased with how I got around. Very, very happy about the week.”
Fowler came out of the blocks quickly, bagging two quick-fire birdies to move to 15 under and three shots ahead of Englishman Ian Poulter, who also enjoyed two opening birdies to keep an early pace with the American, but eventually slipped back to finish nine under par.
He had a blip along the way with a double bogey on the seventh, but golf’s poster boy didn’t take long to turn on the magic again, holing his third, out of the bunker, on the par-five eighth to stay in control.
“The eighth was huge,” Fowler said. “Getting a good tee ball there, and obviously the third shot making eagle was a boost of confidence moving forward.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, failed to find his touch early in the final round on a course that has seen him come runner up on four occasions over the past five years. The Ulsterman bogeyed his opening hole, doing the same on the fifth, before hitting a wild tee shot on the sixth, which bounced off the cart path into water.
He recovered with a par, and the world number three rallied to edge his way back into the mix - including a stunning eagle on the 18th in front of the packed galleries - to finish 14 under par in joint third with Stenson.
In his Abu Dhabi debut, world number one Spieth also made a late surge to finish 11 under but was never in reach of the leaderboard frontrunners. He enjoyed three consecutive birdies on the back nine midway through the afternoon, but the Texan’s run came too late to trouble his American counterpart.
Nipping away at Fowler all day was a pack that included Thomas Bjorn, Alejandro Canizares and Pieters, who went toe-to-toe with Fowler all afternoon and moved to within one shot late in the day to keep his playing partner firmly in his sights.
Also remaining within striking distance of the classy Fowler was ‘Super Swede’ Stenson, who finished joint third with 14 under, but he could do little to rein in the former world number six who held onto his lead with a vice-like grip.
Celebrating his victory immediately after, Fowler praised Abu Dhabi Sports Council and HSBC for lining up a superb playing field which included five of the world’s Top 10, and for one US fan, the 11th Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship compared to anything back at home.
Jesse Thomson, a 31-year-old fan from North Carolina said:
“The weekend was on par or more with the big tournaments in the US, with three or four people-deep rows watching guys like Jordan, Rickie and Rory, who have such a huge following. The access to the golfers here is amazing, allowing us to get within 10, 15 feet of the action.”
Fowler received the championship’s coveted Falcon Trophy and his share of the US $2.7 million prize purse – the biggest in the Desert Swing – from the United Arab Emirates’ Minister for Culture, Youth and Social Development, His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.