ABU DHABI // The renaissance of the world's most famous sportsman was checked on Sunday night when Tiger Woods was beaten to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship by the most gloriously understated golfing everyman.
There could be few more inconspicuous victors in world golf than Robert Rock, whose 13 under par aggregate around the National Course trumped Rory McIlroy by one shot, and Woods by two.
Despite his surname, there is little that seems overtly rock’n’roll about the newest recipient of the Falcon Trophy.
Rock is one of the few players who does not wear a cap, mainly because he does not like playing in one, but also because his bonce has hardly been prime real estate – until now.
His final round here was spent in the company of a player who he idolises. Rock can trot out Woods’ wins record off the top of his head, remembers watching his first victory as a professional, and even looked up his counterpart's tournament statistics in Abu Dhabi, just for pleasure.
“It doesn’t get an awful lot harder than playing with Tiger Woods,” he said. “I guess, barring a major championship, I know I can handle that again. That’s pretty nice to know.”
In 2002, Woods won The Masters, the US Open, the PGA Player of the Year, as well as being the world No 1, and well on his way to his first billion dollars.
At the same time, Rock was a club professional, giving lessons at his local driving range, in between selling tee-pegs and Mars bars.
"I was just playing local PGA events like all club pros do, and I was trying to do my best in those at the time," Rock said.
"There was a slim chance to play my way in to some European Tour events through that route, and that was my goal at that time. No grand plans.
"It seems a long, long way when you are in that position, and if you look at it as one big leap, it doesn't seem possible."
His valedictory press conference last night was laced with onedownmanship.
He had never thought he would do this well on a course he had always played badly on before.
He was perturbed to have left himself a 50 yard chip into the 18th green, because he is so bad at them. “I’ve been practising a bit this week, but it didn’t show,” he said.
Worse still, he embarrassed himself by asking what he suspected to have been a marshall to stand still beside the 10th teebox, after he heard some noisy crunching underfoot. It turned out to have been Woods.
With just one previous win on tour, Rock had been struggling to crack the top 100 in the world rankings, but this victory sent him in to the top 60.
He is not the only one who has been looking to climb the ladder of late.
Woods may have missed out on that elusive tour victory here, but a tied third-place finish in a field of such rich pedigree suggests his game is in good order.
“I played well enough, I thought, to win the golf tournament but I just didn’t get it done,” Woods said. “Robert played great. He was solid, consistent and he didn’t do anything wrong. He never gave up.”
The two-shot penalty McIlroy incurred on Friday was ultimately the difference between first and second place, yet he remained sanguine about his time in the capital.
“It’s one of those things and I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” McIlroy said. “It is still a very good start to the year, and something I have to build on.”
The National Sport
& Paul Radley on