Cabrera-Bello wins Dubai Desert Classic
Updated: February 13, 2012, 04:39
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) 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.''
When the round started, it seemed everything was set up 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 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.
Thanks to a new putting prowess, Westwood hinted he might have the additional weapon to win an elusive first major in 2012.
"I think it's very difficult to win a major without making a few (putts) that are surprising, or bonuses which I haven't holed over the last few years,'' he said last month in Abu Dhabi. "So if I can start rolling in a few 25- to 30-footers that I have not been making, that's obviously going to make a massive difference.''
But after making a 35-foot eagle putt from just off the green on the 2nd to go up by two, Westwood's putting woes returned. He bogeyed the 5th to fall into a tie with Cabrera-Bello and then missed birdie chances on the 9th and 10th holes.
Instead, it was the Spaniard who showed just the right touch down the stretch. He made a birdie on 11 for a share of the lead and followed that with a birdie on 12th for the outright lead.
He then made his best shot of the day on 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.''
The Spaniard then chipped to within a few feet and saved par, and Westwood birdied his 16th to draw even. But rather than let the pressure get to him, Cabrera-Bello birdied the 17th. On 18, he took a conservative approach to the final par 5, just missing a long birdie putt but sinking a two-footer for par for the clubhouse lead.
Then he sat back and waited.
Westwood, who just missed an eagle putt on 16, found the greenside rough on the 18th in two shots. But his 120-foot chip ran well past the hole. He had a 25-foot birdie putt to force the playoff but it came up just short, ending his chances of winning his first tournament of the season.
But Cabrera-Bello's wait was not yet over. Gallacher (69), who was a shot back after sinking a 40-foot eagle putt on 13, also had a chance to force a playoff. He needed to sink a 15-footer for birdie but his attempt rolled past.
Westwood didn't talk to reporters after his round but Gallacher admitted he was "disappointed'' not to have forced a playoff.
"Well, struggled a bit off the tee today but I hit a lot of good iron shots and made a few putts at the right time,'' Gallacher said. "But I had a chance to sort of get into the playoff on the last so just a wee bit disappointed.''
Still, the 148th-ranked Scotsman was "happy overall'' to be playing well, considering he was sidelined for much of 2009 with a debilitating viral infection that he had picked up in Dubai.
McIlroy, who led at the halfway point, also said he could have done better. He three-putted to open with a bogey and then went in the water on the ninth for a double bogey to take himself out of contention. He recovered for four birdies on the back nine including ending with one on the 17th and 18th for a respectable finish.
"It was obviously playing a little tougher out there today with the wind,'' McIlroy said of gusts that were forecast to reach 25 miles per hour. "It's the strongest breeze we've had all week and it was tough. The greens were a little firmer. It was close to get the ball close to the hole.''
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