Martin Kaymer admitted to being shocked after he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to hand world No 357 Gary Stal the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship yesterday.
Kaymer carried a six-shot lead going into the final round and extended his advantage to eight shots after birdies at three of his first four holes, but it went downhill fast for the three-time winner soon after.
A bogey at the sixth hole, a double bogey at the ninth and a triple bogey at the 13th led to Kaymer’s demise and, although he stopped the rot with five successive pars, he ran out of holes with which to recover to gift Stal his maiden European title.
Reigning US Open champion Kaymer eventually finished third behind Stal and runner-up Rory McIlroy – with the German’s three-over-par 75 the joint worst of the day with England’s Andy Sullivan – and he admitted afterwards he was struggling to process his spectacular collapse.
“I’m surprised and a little shocked. I don’t really know how to put it into words,” he said. “It was very, very surprising today. I started off well but then I hit a couple of bad tee shots and it cost me a double bogey and a triple bogey.
“I do miss fairways, but usually you get away with it okay, you don’t make double or triple bogey. But that is what happened today. Another thing was I didn’t make many putts. I missed a lot of putts and, therefore, it was very difficult for me to make birdies.”
But Kaymer was philosophical in retrospect and is already looking forward to getting back into action in the coming weeks.
“I was playing playing good golf all week long,” he added. “Today I didn’t hit many fairways and that was the problem and I didn’t make many putts either,” he added. “You can’t really afford that but, on the other hand, I was playing really good golf and that is what you can build on and what is most important for me.
“There are many, many tournaments coming up until the Masters and they will be great preparation.”
Kaymer’s remarkable slump allowed Stal to pounce and the 22-year-old Frenchman promptly took the lead after Kaymer’s triple bogey thanks to six birdies in his first 11 holes.
After parring the first three holes, Stal picked up shots at the fourth and six before reeling off four successive birdies to the 11th hole to move two clear at the top of the leaderboard.
Four pars followed before Stal birdied the par-four 16th and finished with two pars to finish with a seven-under 65 for the day.
Afterwards, he admitted the victory had come as a bit of a surprise.
“It was a crazy day but obviously I’m very happy to win this tournament,” Stal said.
“It’s unbelievable to win, because when I saw the leaderboard on the fifth hole, I saw Martin Kaymer on 24 under par and I thought to myself then it’s not possible to win.
“But when I saw my name on the leaderboard on the 16th green, I saw everything had changed, and then it was possible.”
McIlroy carded a final-round 66 to finish with a flurry and claim the runners-up spot.
He began the day eight shots off the pace but shot three birdies on the front nine and four coming home to finish six under yesterday – 18 under for the tournament.
Stal’s compatriot Victor Dubuisson and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters were tied for fourth place on 16 under, while English pair Tyrrell Hatton and James Morrison were joint sixth with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger two shots back.
England’s Ross Fisher and Wales’ Jamie Donaldson were tied for ninth place, with South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel on 13 under, and Justin Rose – who matched Stal’s best-of-the-day 65 – was one of eight players a further shot back on 12 under.
Paul Lawrie was the best-placed Scot, carding a 69 yesterday to finish eight shots off the pace. Craig Lee, with a final round 73 and four-under total of 284, and David Drysdale (71 for 286) finished way down the final leaderboard.