Larrazabal edges McIlroy and Mickelson to Abu Dhabi title

Spaniard emerges winner on unpredictable final day at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship after finishing one shot ahead of celebrated duo.

Pablo Larrazabal has had two title wins on the European Tour. Karim Sahib / AFP
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ABU DHABI // Pablo Larrazabal took his place on the 18th green, along from those he had just vanquished, to seize the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and struggled to take in what he had just achieved.

The stunned Spaniard, still shaking from a one-shot victory over the golf luminaries Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, was awaiting the official presentation of the Falcon Trophy when the magnitude of the past week's endeavours began to hit home.

He said: “I’m sitting there in the prize ceremony, and I say to myself, ‘Pablo, what the hell are you doing here?’ I’m shaking Rory’s hand and Phil is on my left.”

As a player who entered the week ranked 103 in the world, he knew most fans would consider him something of a party-crasher.

“I mean, I’ve beaten two of the three most talented guys in my era, and the last one, as well. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy: what can I say?”

Having started the day three off the lead, he put on a masterclass of well-aimed wedges to take the slenderest of advantages down the 72nd hole.

Fairway safely located off the tee, Larrazabal then drilled a laser-like 5-wood to within 25 feet to set up an eagle opportunity.

It effectively extinguished the dual threat posed by the multiple major champions in his rear-view mirror.

“I knew I was my only enemy, so I just hit that 5-wood as hard as I could,” he said after his final-round 67. “I said to myself ‘just one more good swing’, and I ripped that thing.”

The resultant eagle attempt would have frayed nerves a bit, too. Rather tentative, Larrazabal left himself with a seven-foot putt for glory, knowing another miscalculation would have almost certainly prompted a sudden-death scenario.

“Thank god it went in,” he said. “Because I’d not be here if we went to a play-off.”

He kept his cool to claim the third triumph of his European Tour career. If the introductory success at the 2008 French Open was a win to prove he had the talent, he said – “even Tiger [Woods] at his best would not have beaten me that week” – then the 2011 play-off victory at the BMW International Open apparently demonstrated he had the belief.

He labelled the most recent conquest the consequence of serious dedication.

“It’s a win of hard work and teamwork,” said Larrazabal, who cited a 10-strong staff before giving little away about a mystery contributor whom he credits as key to his present prosperity.

“I’m not going to tell you who this is, because if I tell you the secrets then someone else will do it.

“I’ll make sure no one knows.”

Larrazabal’s revised schedule is a tad sketchy, as well. He will vault 50-odd spots this week to around 55th in the world rankings, putting him on the verge of automatic entry to the majors.

“I don’t know what I play now,” he said. “Do I play Doral? Do I play the Matchplay?

“I’ll play Qatar next week and then Dubai. After the Desert Classic I’m going home.”

Perhaps that will provide ample opportunity for some quiet reflection. Not that Larrazabal believes it, but his new-found status as a 2014 champion means Gleneagles, in September, and a place on Paul McGinley’s European team, now form a realistic objective.

He said: “What? If I had pressure here, I don’t want to go to the Ryder Cup.”

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