(Our Paul Stewart looks back on Mondays to the European Tour weekend)
GARCIA WINS IN DUBAI
Sergio Garcia led from start to finish to record his first win in two years at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He shot a final round 69 to finish at -19 and a three shot victory over Open champion Henrik Stenson.
“I’m very happy to play the way I played. The way I handled some of the key moments and to beat Henrik, we all now how great a player he is,” said Garcia. “Even on the 18th with a four-shot lead I knew that I needed to hit a good third shot because you can mess it up a little bit there if you’re not careful,”
“Henrik is always there so you’ve got to stay calm and collected with him. It’s a great start to the year so we’re going to try to keep going the same way.”
Stenson had closed the gap on the back nine to two with birdies at the 13th and 14th but Garcia delivered a stunning shot to inside three feet at the 15th for a birdie of his own and then closed the door with a majestic up-and-down at the following hole. Stenson ended with a 69 at -16 but found that was the way the cookie crumbled as he watched his European compatriot take the victory.
“I was three shots back at the start of the day and Sergio made an early birdie so I was trailing all day, I was expecting that. I still managed to sneak a couple of birdies in there in the middle of the back nine and move closer, You’ve got to push when you’re behind and we got the wind slightly wrong there on 15. I over-hit it a little bit at the same time. That’s obviously where it all kind of finished.
“At the same time, Sergio hit a lovely shot to about two and a half feet and it was pretty much game, set and match on the 15th green. I’m just working away on my game, trying to move all the positions forward and the time when we want to be peaking is obviously early April. So that’s what we’re working towards and it’s good, steady progress.”
Garcia became the sixth Spaniard to lift the trophy in Dubai following the late great Seve Ballesteros in 1992, Jose Maria Olazabal (1998), Miguel Angel Jimenez (2010), Alvaro Quiros (2011) and Rafa Cabrera Bello in 2012.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton shot a final round 67 to finish 3rd at -14 and could well move into the World Top 20 when the next rankings are released. The 25-year old has been on a dramatic rise over the past two years capped with his win at the Dunhill Links Championship and 2nd place in the end-of-season European Tour Championship. He also finished 5th at the Open at Royal Troon and 10th in the PGA making him one of those under-the-radar players who could surprise many at the upcoming World Championship events.
It was not a good tournament for European Ryder Cup captains. Jose-Maria Olazabal (2012) and Darren Clarke (2016) both missed the cut as did 2018 captain Thomas Bjorn.
Tiger Woods’ back. Many words have been written about the former World No.1’s withdrawal after a first round 77 in Dubai. It could be some time before we see him tee it up again on either side of the Atlantic.
LOOK WHO’S BACK
European Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter found himself in the final group alongside Garcia and Stenson and although he fell away to 15th with a final round 76, it was his first Top 20 finish since missing eight months of the 2016 season following a foot injury. The 41-year old was still part of the 2016 European team that lost at Hazeltine but will be looking to regain his spot on the team in 2018 through his play on the course.
The European Tour moves to the Far East as part of a three-month tour round courses most distinctly not in mainland Europe. The Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will be played at the Saujana Golf and Country Club, a 7,186 yard par-72 course. Australian Marcus Fraser returns to defend the title he won in 2016 with current Masters champion Danny Willett and another former Green Jacket winner Charl Schwartzel in the field.