DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Rafael Cabrera-Bello held off a strong field Sunday to capture the Dubai Desert Classic, shooting a 4-under 68 to beat Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher by a stroke for his second European Tour victory.
Westwood and Gallacher could have forced a playoff in the wind, but both players missed birdie putts on the 18th. That brought a groan from the packed gallery, but a broad smile from the No. 119-ranked Spaniard, who got on the phone to share news of his victory with his parents and girlfriend 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 started the final round one shot back, finished three behind at 15-under 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 a further 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 at 277. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, also in contention Saturday, finished with a 1-under 71 for 275.
Cabrera-Bello is the latest low-profile player to win on the European Tour this year, following the lead of England’s Robert Rock, who beat Tiger Woods to win the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship last month.
“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.”
When the round started, it seemed everything was set for a Westwood win. 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 Saturday.
But after making a 35-foot eagle putt from just off the green on the second to go up by two, Westwood’s putting woes re-emerged. He bogeyed the fifth to fall into a tie with Cabrera-Bello and then missed birdie chances on the Nos. 9 and 10.
Instead, it was the Spaniard who showed just the right touch down the stretch. He made a birdie on No. 11 for a share of the lead and followed that with a birdie on No. 12th for the outright lead.
He then made his best shot of the day on No. 16, after his drive landed on a sandy hillside behind a grove of palm trees. His caddy advised him to play it safe and avoid the trees. But he went for the green, clearing the trees and landing his 150-yard shot just left of the green.
“I just didn’t go for it to see what happened,” said Cabrera-Bello, who ran up the hill to follow the shot. “I really believed I could do it. And then when I hit the ball, I said please don’t hit anything else. I don’t want to hear any other noise.”