ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Rickie Fowler fought off a late charge from Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters to win the Abu Dhabi Championship by one stroke on Sunday and land his fourth title in eight months.
The American’s latest victory will propel him to fourth in the world rankings after topping a stellar field including four-time major winner McIlroy and Henrik Stenson, who finished equal third, and world number one Jordan Spieth, who was fifth.
Fowler shot a final round 69 for a 16-under 272 to pip the Belgian runner-up Pieters — and he can thank two magical chips for his latest triumph.
The first was a 30-yard sand-wedge for an eagle on the eighth which made amends for a double-bogey a hole earlier while a low chip in for a birdie from just off the 17th green put him decisively clear.
Pieters went round in 67 but his 25-foot eagle attempt at the last stopped three inches short to deny the world number 88 a play-off.
“To come over here, my first full-field event of the 2016 season, this is a great way to start,” Fowler said in a TV interview, adding the potent line-up had made his win extra special.
“I want to be playing against the best players in the world and beating the best players in the world.”
Fowler picked up two late shots to end the fog-interrupted third round on Sunday morning with a 65 which put him two strokes clear going into the afternoon’s final round.
He recorded birdies on the first two holes, his shot from the first fairway having been greeted by the Muslim call to prayer that floated across the National course from surrounding mosques.
That extended his lead to four before the double-bogey caused a three-stoke swing against him.
Fowler, as always dressed in his final round orange shirt, made immediate amends, however, raising his finger to the sky in celebration after the bunker eagle.
“It was a nice way to rebound, got me back in the swing of things,” Fowler said.
“I had a lot of fun going toe-to-toe with Pieters, he played awesome today. I’m happy to come out on top.”
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy had been out of sorts after fluffing a six-foot birdie putt on his third round’s last hole and tossing his putter away in disgust at the mistake that denied him a place in the concluding round’s final group.
The world number three (68) made little headway thereafter until three late birdies and a 30-foot eagle on 18 gave him a 14-under aggregate of 274.
Sweden’s Stenson (67) also flourished late, picking up three shots from the 15th to finish alongside McIlroy.
The Europeans’ surge left Fowler only a stroke ahead with two holes to play but he responded with the birdie on 17 that brought a rare smile flickering across his lips.
US Master Spieth (68) also shrugged off a middling front nine to be one of six players to tie for fifth on 277.
(Reporting by Matt Smith, editing by Alan Baldwin and Ian Chadband)