Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday as Phil Mickelson imploded and a blunder by Rory McIlroy left him only able to claim a “moral victory” for the second time in three years.
Larrazabal carded a final round of 67 to finish 14 under par, one stroke ahead of McIlroy and Mickelson, who were both left to rue vital mistakes. For McIlroy it was taking an incorrect drop on the second hole of his third round, an error which cost him a two-shot penalty and left him fuming about golf’s “stupid rules”.
Two years ago, the former world No 1 was penalised two shots in his second round here for brushing away some sand that was not on the green but which lay between his ball and the flag. He went on to finish one behind surprise winner Robert Rock.
Mickelson’s wound was also self-inflicted, the Open champion leading by one when he ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 13th after attempting to hit a right-handed escape shot from under a bush, only to suffer a double hit when his ball struck the bush and bounced back on to his club.
The 43-year-old bounced back with birdies on the 14th and 16th, but was unable to find the eagle he needed on the 18th to force a play-off.
McIlroy had played alongside Larrazabal and the pair were both three under for the day after 11 holes, but while McIlroy’s challenge stalled with a run of seven straight pars, Larrazabal birdied the 13th and hit two superb shots to the heart of the 18th green to set up the decisive birdie.
“I can’t describe [how frustrating it is],” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m standing here and I should be 15 under par for the tournament and win by one, but that’s the way it goes. I played the least shots of anyone this week. I can count it as a moral victory more than anything else.
“It’s a very positive start to the season so I’m not going to let one negative ruin that. I’m driving the ball well, hitting the ball solid and giving myself plenty of chances for birdies. And if I can keep doing that, the wins will come.”
Larrazabal thanked his coach, caddie, brother and two physical trainers for aiding his success, but refused to reveal the name of the man “who takes care of the rest”.
“I am not going to tell you his name or what he does,” Larrazabal said. “It is the best thing that could happen to my game to meet this guy, but if you tell your secrets someone else is going to do it.”
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