Abu Dhabi HSBC champion Victor Perez: ‘Sometimes it pays. Sometimes you die in flames'

Fortune favours Frenchman in thrilling finish at Yas Links

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With the Falcon Trophy perched next to a deservedly satisfied winner of the 2023 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, an old quote sprang readily to mind: to the victor go the spoils.

And yet, Victor Perez’s thrill-a-minute final round at Yas Links on Sunday could be more accurately defined by a different adage: fortune had favoured the brave.

The French-born, US-university educated, resident of Scotland had emerged from a bunched field with a sparkling final round, and held a one-shot lead with two holes to play.

Not for him the cautious plotting of a path to glory. Instead, he attacked it, and embraced the drama. Of which there was plenty.

His tee shot at the 17th found sand short and right of the pin. With the Arabian Gulf in his eye line, it was a daunting escape. Yet he holed it, landing his 22-yard chip past the flag and spinning it back into the cup.

“It came out maybe a little skinny, I'm not going to lie,” Perez said, before acknowledging, “it is probably the greatest shot I've ever hit.”

Despite the two-stroke buffer, his work was not yet done. He found the fairway bunker on 18, and from there clunked his recovery in the direction of the water. Crucially, though, his ball stayed dry.

He said it was “a giant fortune that the ball doesn't bounce in the hazard”, as his ball nestled on the bank instead.

“Because I would have to drop in the rough, you're playing four, you catch a flyer and now the whole thing is back on the table,” he said.

He nudged the ball 33 yards to safety, hit a 7-iron to the heart of the green, and walked away with a bogey that was good enough for a one-shot win ahead of his playing partner Sebastian Soderberg, and Min Woo Lee.

“I tend to be sometimes too aggressive in crucial moments because I hate to back away from shots,” the 30-year-old Frenchman said. “Sometimes it pays. Sometimes you die in flames.”

Perez had finished runner-up in the capital in 2020, when the tournament was still played across the road at the National Course.

His star was in sharp ascent at the time, but his progress was stalled as the world ground to a halt because of Covid. He hopes the good times can roll again, kick-started by his success at Yas.

“Covid affected people differently,” Perez said. “For me it was really difficult because I was riding such a high wave of performance towards the end of 2019 and the start of 2020.

“I finished second in Abu Dhabi in 2020 on the other course, and the momentum was really flowing. I got inside the world top 50.

“Every dream you had as a kid to play in the Masters, to play the majors with the big crowds, and all of a sudden overnight, everything stops.

“Nobody is going to argue that what happened, it was terrible for all the people that passed obviously from the disease.

“But for me it was very difficult because I went away to America. We couldn't practise in the UK [Perez lives in Dundee, Scotland] for the longest time.”

Perez said reversing back down the rankings was “humbling”, but he is glad to be on the way back up.

“You're going to have highs and lows and players are going to play well, they are going to have good years, bad years,” he said.

“There are only a few outliers who are at the top for the longest time, and I think it's not realistic to base your standard at that, thinking that you can stay in the top five or top 10 or world for 15 years. You might, but you are going to have to work very hard for it.”

Updated: January 23, 2023, 3:30 AM