DUBAI – Lee Westwood came into this year saying his improved putting could help him get his first major victory. However, if his performance at the Dubai Desert Classic was any indication, the greens still provide plenty of challenges for the third-ranked Englishman.
Westwood came into the final round with a one-shot lead. But after sinking a long eagle putt on the second hole, he missed several birdie chances that opened the door for eventual winner Rafael Cabrera-Bello. And when the 119th-ranked Spaniard seized the lead on 17 with a birdie, Westwood couldn’t keep up. He missed a seven-footer on 17 that could have tied and then another one on 18 to force a playoff.
He left the course without speaking to reporters, leaving the stage to Cabrera-Bello who earlier sank a short par putt for a 4-under 68 to secure only his second European Tour victory. After Westwood and Stephen Gallacher missed their birdie putts to hand the title to Cabrera-Bello, the Spaniard broke into a wide smile and promptly rang his parents and girlfriend back home in the Canary Islands.
The win moves Cabrera-Bello—whose only other victory came at the Austrian Open in 2009—into the top 60 and onto the elite list of golfers who will play in the Match Play Championship in Arizona that begins Feb. 23.
“It’s been a really, really special week for me,” Cabrera-Bello said as he accepted the trophy. “I played great the entire week. With so many big names up there, I really felt proud of myself. I wanted to fight. I stayed calm and I did everything I read you should do in these situation. It was really amazing.”
Marcel Siem, who also started the final round one shot back, finished three behind in fourth with a 15-under total of 273. George Coetzee (70) of South Africa, Scott Jamieson (71) of Scotland, Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy (71) of Northern Ireland were tied for fifth another shot back.
Fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer of Germany, two shots off the lead after the third round, struggled to a 1-over 74 and finished in a tie for 13th. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, also in contention Saturday, finished with a 1-under 71 and a tie for 9th.
Cabrera-Bello is the latest low-profile player to win a European Tour event this year, following the lead of England’s Robert Rock who beat Tiger Woods to win the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship last month. The Spaniard said beating such a talented field only confirmed that he can play with anyone.
“Just the fact I was able to be successful today proves to me that I’m working on the right line,” Cabrera-Bello said. “It gives me a lot of confidence that I have proven to myself that I can perform at least one week as good as them. It’s a huge morale booster.”
He started with a one-shot lead over Cabrera-Bello and had 21 European Tour victories under his belt compared to three for the three players in second. He spoke of “knowing how to play with a lead” and felt his putting had steadily improved—noting that he needed only 27 putts on Saturday.
Westwood has credited his putting for a strong finish to the 2011 season— winning the Thailand Golf Championship in December and the Nedbank Challenge a few weeks earlier. He had a third-round score of 62 at Nedbank, and opened Thailand with a 60—the lowest round of his career—and then a 64 to beat Charl Schwartzel by seven strokes. – Agencies