Larrazabal outlasts Mickelson, McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

Pablo Larrazabal holes the winning putt on the par-5 18th during the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Pablo Larrazabal should buy Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy late Christmas presents. Both have been generous to the Spaniard this week.

If not for the largesse from Mickelson and McIlroy, Larrazabal might not have won the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, his third European Tour victory and first since 2011.

Larrazabal picked up the $450,000 first-place check after a final-round 5-under 67 for a 72-hole total of 274.

McIlroy and Mickelson finished tied for second, one shot behind.

McIlroy fired a closing 4-under 68, while Mickelson posted a 69. They took away checks for $234,510 along with reported $1 million (or more) appearance fees for turning up in the UAE’s richest emirate.

Both arguably could have won the championship if they’d been just a little bit more sensible. After a careless rules violation, McIlroy lost by a shot for the second time in three years, while Mickelson’s cavalier approach cost him dearly.

McIlroy might have won if not for the two-stroke penalty he incurred on the second hole of the third round. Take away those two shots and it would have given him a 15-under total and a one-shot victory.

Two years ago, the Northern Irishman was docked two shots for brushing sand off the fringe of the ninth green. He lost by a shot on that occasion, too, to Robert Rock.

“I’m standing here and I should be 15 under par for the tournament and won by one,” McIlroy said. “That’s the way it goes. I played the least shots of anyone this week. I can count it as a moral victory more than anything else.”

Mickelson might have won if not for a triple bogey on the par-4 13th hole. The reigning Open Championship winner hit his tee shot into a bush to the left of the fairway. He tried to play it out right-handed rather than take a penalty drop. The ball hit a branch of the bush and rebounded onto his club.

The double-hit left the ball under the bush, leaving him another right-handed shot. He got it out a few yards with his fourth shot, hit his fifth onto the green and needed two putts.

“It never crossed my mind it might double-hit,” Mickelson said. “I was just trying to dribble it out of the bush because I couldn’t get the unplayable lie to give me a shot. I thought it was worth the risk.”

Mickelson did well to play the last five holes in 3 under. He had a 50-foot eagle putt on the last to tie Larrazabal, but missed.

“I got re-focused and got aggressive and made some birdies and gave myself a chance,” Mickelson said. “If Pablo had not birdied the last hole to win, I would have gotten into a playoff.”

Larrazabal dropped only one shot all day, picking up a bogey on the par-4 fifth hole. Aside from that, he was peerless. He was particularly rock solid after leaving his birdie putt 5 feet short on the final hole after hitting a 5-wood to 40 feet. He confidently brushed the winning putt into the hole and then punched the air in celebration, Seve Ballesteros-style.

“Unbelievable,” said Larrazabal, 30, of Barcelona. “I’ve been working so hard for the last two years and this winter. They say the hard work pays off, but it’s hard to believe it.

“Today was very special to fight against Rory and Phil.”

For many years, Larrazabal followed in the footsteps of his brother, Alejandro, even serving as caddie when Alejandro won the 2002 British Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl. Pablo carried the bag when Alejandro played in the 2003 Masters.

However, he soon proved to be the more talented of the Larrazabal brothers. Alejandro now works for Pablo.

The victory moves Larrazabal to 12th on the European Ryder Cup points list, and puts him in position to contend for a spot against the Americans this fall at Gleneagles, Scotland.

The way he holed out for victory suggests he has the right stuff to handle Ryder Cup pressure.

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