A DAY that promised so much ended in disappointment for Craig Lee. Two shots clear at the start, a closing 77 saw the Stirling man finish joint-tenth in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
He’d have taken that at the start of the week heading into his first event of 2014. It was only natural, though, that his words were tinged with disappointment as he reflected on the final outcome.
“It was just one of those days,” admitted Lee, who lost his overnight advantage after four holes, fell behind at the next and knew his race had been run after running up a double-bogey 6 at the 11th.
“I didn’t hit the ball well off the tee and around a course like that you are always going to struggle, but I also got unlucky a couple of times.”
At the short fourth, for instance, his tee shot was a foot from being perfect but trickled back down a slope, from where he hit a woeful first putt then missed the next one.
“I was also plugged in a bunker at the seventh and found a divot at the tenth,” added the 36-year-old, who had trouble picking the right club at times in a gusty wind as he finished on seven under - seven shots behind winner Pablo Larrazabal.
Two behind playing partner Phil Mickelson heading into the back nine, Lee still felt he had a chance until getting unlucky again at the par-4 11th.
“I hit a great shot out of the semi rough that came up about three inches short, falling back into a bunker, from where I thinned it and then three-putted,” he said of that hole. “That was curtains for me.”
His day was just about summed up when a four-foot putt horse-shoed out at the last to deprive him of a first birdie on the card.
The one positive experience for the man pipped in a play-off for the European Masters in Switzerland last September was playing in the same group as Open champion Mickelson.
“I was nervous heading out but excited, too, so I was feeling unbeat,” he said of that pairing. “It was great playing with Phil and watching him and his demeanour. Even after he ran up his 7 he bounced back with a couple of birdies and that’s the sign of a good player.
“I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable out there. It’s just a case of trying to keep putting myself in that position.
“Tenth equal isn’t bad in the first event of the season, especially when you are not quite sure how rusty you are going to be coming out after the winter. If I can keep putting myself in that position, then hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get across the winning line.”
Stephen Gallacher finished as the leading Scot, two places above Lee after he signed off with a three-under 69 for eight-under.
“It was good to break 70 today as the wind was gusting and changing,” said Gallacher after a four-birdie effort. “I’m getting better and more into it and I think going to Durban (for the Volvo Champions) and playing four rounds there helped because I’ve always struggled here in the past.
“It is a culture shock straight out the blue playing this place and is it’s both long and tough.
Along with Lee, he now heads to Qatar for the Middle East Swing event there but Gallacher already has one eye on his Dubai Desert Classic title defence after that.
“It’s hard not to,” he admitted. “It will be good fun playing with both Tiger Woods and Fred Couples in the ‘Champions Challenge’ before the main event.”
Picking up some decent world ranking points will have boosted Gallacher’s hopes of qualifying for the WGC Match Play in Arizona next month.
“My first target is always trying to win every week, or trying to prepare to win,” he said. “But, if you can’t do that, then you try to finish up as high as you can to get a few ranking points and I’m done that here.”
Marc Warren had a “bit of a struggle” as he closed with a 74 - his worst effort of the week - to finish joint-37th on three-under, one ahead of Colin Montgomerie (71) and five better than Peter Whiteford (73).