The pot they hoped would go to Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods ended up the property of Jamie Donaldson. For the second year in succession the HSBC Championship delivered the unsung winner. After Robert Rock in 2012, Donaldson stuck his hand up for the common golfer in the land of the super rich. Woods banked five times Donaldson's £277,000 jackpot just for turning up. That's market forces for you. Donaldson's winner's speech was more an introduction to the Abu Dhabi dignitaries seated around the 18th green than an expression of gratitude for his second European Tour success.
Also seated were Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen, who shared second place, one shot back on 13 under par. Both had putts to force a play-off at the last, Rose lipping out agonisingly with his. "I thought I'd hit the perfect putt," he said. "It reminded me exactly of the putt at 18 against Phil [Mickelson] at Medinah [in the Ryder Cup]. Just outside the right edge. That's exactly where I hit it. Unfortunately, this time, it did not go in. Would I swap it? No I wouldn't. But I feel a little bit robbed that it didn't go in.
"It was a long, hard week to end up finishing second. I went round with the lead the whole way. It would have been nice to finish it off wire to wire. It's hard to win tournaments. You can't just sit back and expect it to happen. The first nine holes were a little flat but I thought I did a lot of good things on the back nine. I enjoyed coming to the last hole needing to make birdie to force a play-off. I made four and a half."
Rose did not lose the tournament at the last but on an outward nine when the putts refused to drop. He was five under to the turn on Saturday and level yesterday. "I just couldn't get the line. For some reason I found them much harder to read. I didn't do a lot wrong so it's hard to beat yourself up about it. Jamie played a good round of golf today and Thorbjorn hung tough all day."
This game makes the best finishers scream. Donaldson, who shared the lead with Rose on day one, set out two back yesterday but after a birdie at the first was full of running. With Rose in the grip of stasis, Donaldson tore past him on the back nine with successive birdies at 14 and 15. Neither were tap-ins. He arrived at the last with a two-shot lead, whereupon the proximity of victory began to exert the pressure Rose had felt all day.
From 25 feet on the final green Donaldson three-putted for a bogey six to open the door to Olesen and Rose. Neither was able to convert the chance leaving the man who shares a birth place with Tom Jones, Pontypridd, to sing on behalf of Joe Golfer. His second win came six months after his first at the Irish Open. At one point in his career, when he was told by a doctor that his back problems were so bad he should not play again, Donaldson could not imagine a day like this would dawn for him.
So bad was his back in 2004 he feared that stepping off a kerb might send it into spasm. He was forced to take a year off and estimates it took three more of hard slog on the physio's table and in the gym to restore order. He lost his card in 2007 and was forced to seek refuge on the Challenge Tour. "Perseverance is a big word. I suppose when I look back on my career I was in the wilderness for four years. I didn't really know where I was at then," he said. "From that point it has just been a rebuilding process.
"One doctor said don't play again. As soon as somebody says that you just go to see somebody else. I couldn't hear that. The guy that I did go and see, Jon Bowskill, said you need to do a shedload of exercises. Once you have done them for so long, the balance muscles that you never had before seem to just stay."
The win in Ireland came at the 255th time of asking. At 37, he is the second oldest winner in Abu Dhabi, losing out by 60 days to American Chris DiMarco. Needless to say, it is the biggest moment of his career, the win launching him into the world's top 30 for the first time. "You know, to win here is crazy, after the start of the week," he said. "I played in the pro-am and thought this golf course is just too difficult. I said to the guys if I could somehow get a top ten out of this week it would be a miracle. And to win it is hilarious."
Well, not quite. Donaldson is typical of the talent on tour, good enough on his day to spring a surprise. His world ranking does not lie. If the likes of McIlroy and Woods are unable to rouse themselves, there are a few more like Donaldson giving it everything to make their mark. This was his day. He's a few quid richer this morning, and full value for it.
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