So you can be wrong – even world-class golfers are always surprised by what happens on the course. Viktor Hovland had started the final day of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic six strokes behind South African leader Justin Harding in 13th place, a seemingly impossible deficit. Even when the 24-year-old Scandinavian had furiously finished his final round about 80 minutes ahead of the top trio with birdie, eagle, birdie and the best result of the day of 66 strokes, he didn’t believe that after three successes on the PGA Tour he would still have his second win on the DP World Tour.
But in the end, this traditional tournament, which has been held since 1989, produced a lot of drama. While crowd favorite Rory McIlroy gambled away the win in the end, underdog Richard Bland made it to the playoff with a final round of 68 shots. But even the 48-year-old Englishman, who was only fifth after three days, couldn’t stop the Scandinavian.
With a birdie on the first extra hole and a total of 276 (68+69+73+66) shots, the golf pro from Oslo secured the prize of 1.22 million euros at this event, which is part of the “Rolex Series”, and thus moved up from fifth third place in the world rankings. Hovland, who only turned pro in June 2019 after a glittering amateur career (US Amateur win, amateur rankings leader), now has only Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Collin Morikawa ahead of him in the pecking order. While Rahm missed the play-off by just one stroke in the PGA Tour tournament in San Diego, which ended on Saturday, and finished third behind the winner Luke List and his American compatriot Will Zalatoris, Morikawa disappointed, as in Abu Dhabi Dubai. The Californian only tied for 18th place.
In the end everything turns out differently
“Rory is a pretty good player. I think he’ll close the sack this time,” said Viktor Hovland after he had finished his lap in a spectacular way and had initially drawn level with the leading McIlroy. Both were 12 under par at the time, but McIlroy still had a number of fairways ahead of him that were considered safe birdie holes for a man of his class and length – especially at a course the Northern Irishman played on in 2009 as a 19-year-old teenager Lockenkopf was able to record his first victory on the European Tour and repeated this triumph in 2015. But in the final phase everything turned out differently.
The Northern Irishman made a great save from the bushes on the 17th hole, but he gambled away all his chances on the 18th hole. The attempt to reach the green with a three-wood from 244 meters against a headwind went wrong. The ball landed in the pond in front of the green. The attempt also missed the jump-off by one shot with a bogey. With a final round of 71 shots, he had to settle for third place – another bitter pill for “Rors”, as his colleagues call him. In November of last year, he lost victory in Dubai on the final day of the final tournament of the DP World Tour after leading the way through the final 18 holes.
On the oldest course on the Arabian Peninsula (opened in 1988) a veteran shone. Bland, who celebrates his 49th birthday this Thursday, made headlines last May when he won his first tournament, the British Masters, on his 478th start on the European Tour. Since then, Bland had at least worked his way up to 80th place in the world rankings through a number of top rankings in the late autumn of his career. But then he had to undergo knee surgery at the end of last year, and the start of the new season was also delayed because he was unable to train due to a corona infection.
He missed the cut at the season opener in Abu Dhabi. On Sunday he went into the final round on the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course four strokes behind South African Justin Harding. But while Harding collapsed and fell back to tied fourth with 76 shots, Bland surprisingly drew level with Hovland on a final loop of 68, thanks largely to his precision with wedges and sensitivity on the green. But for a professional who can switch to the European Legends Tour or the American Champions Tour for “Best Agers” next year, second place and the prize money of 789,000 euros are also a coup.
In contrast, the three German participants only played very modest supporting roles. After a disappointing final lap, Mathias Schmid from the Upper Palatinate fell back from 15th to shared 35th place on Sunday. Düsseldorf’s Nicolai von Dellinghausen, who shone on Friday with a round of 66 shots, slipped down to sixth place. His Düsseldorf colleague Maxmilian Kieffer missed the cut.
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