ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Robert Rock held his nerve Sunday to beat U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship for the biggest win of the Englishman's career.
The 117th-ranked Rock shot a 2-under 70 for an overall 13-under 275 to beat the 22-year Northern Irishman by a shot and the 14-major winner by two. Woods finished in a tie for third with Thomas Bjorn (68) and Graeme McDowell (68).
Woods started the final round tied for the lead with the unheralded Rock. He appeared poised to win his second tournament in a row after ending a two-year winless drought with victory last month at the Chevron World Challenge.
But the control Woods displayed for much the weekend abandoned him Sunday and it was Rock who held it together down the stretch.
"I didn't hit the ball as well as I would like to," Woods said. "Today I was just a touch off. I was righting the ball through the fairways. I was hitting the ball a little bit further than I thought I would ... So something to look at, and something to try and figure out."
Woods started strong and it looked like he might pull away from Rock, sinking a 40-footer on No. 2 for a birdie and then chipping to within a foot of the cup for a second birdie on the 3rd. But Rock — who said Saturday he was a bit overwhelmed to face his idol — didn't blink. He also birdied the first two of three holes to keep pace.
Then Woods began to unravel.
He started spraying his drives into the thick rough and fairway bunkers, resulting in the first of three bogeys. When Woods wasn't missing the fairways, he was scrambling to save par as he did on the 11th when overshooting the green. As he approached his shot in deep rough just off the 11th green, he sighed heavily and let out a stream of obscenities under his breath.
Woods managed to save par on 11 by sinking a 12-footer and Rock just missed a birdie putt. Woods pumped his fist and appeared to be regaining the momentum when he pulled within one shot of Rock on No. 13 when the Englishman had one of his three bogeys. But the 34-year-old Rock birdied two of the next three holes to seize control.
Rock wobbled on the 18th when his drive landed in a pile of rocks near the water — forcing him to take a drop. But he recovered beautifully, reaching the green in four and then two-putting for the win.
The loss is the second straight time Woods has failed to win with at least a share of the lead after 54 holes. He lost the Chevron World Challenge in 2010 after going into the final round with a four-shot lead over McDowell.
Woods acknowledged it wasn't the way he wanted to start the 2012 season but said he took solace from the control he showed the first three days and the putts he made over the final three days. He missed out on his 84th win and the fifth time in nine years to open the season with a victory.
"Obviously the ultimate goal is to win and I didn't win," Woods said.
"I hit the ball good enough to win the golf tournament this week," he said. "Today I just didn't give myself enough looks at it. Most of my putts were lag putts. I didn't drive the ball in as many fairways as I should have. Some of the balls were running through. Other balls, I was just missing. It was a day I was just a touch off off the tee and consequently I couldn't get the ball close enough to give myself looks."