Robert Rock holds off Tiger Woods to win in Abu Dhabi

Tiger Woods and Robert Rock
Rock left Woods in his wake on the front nine at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club

England's Robert Rock held off the challenge of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to claim the biggest win of his career at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Joint overnight leader with Woods, Rock birdied three of his first six holes to set up a one-shot victory on 13 under.

McIlroy (69) birdied the last to finish second, while Woods struggled to find fairways or greens in his level-par 72.

Graeme McDowell (68) aced the 12th and birdied the last two holes to tie for third with Woods and Thomas Bjorn (68).

Former world number one Woods started well with a 50-foot birdie putt on the second and another birdie on the third, but gave both those shots back with bogeys on the fourth and fifth.

Rock, who also birdied the second and third, knocked in another on the sixth to open a three-shot lead he could scarcely believe.

"I was just happy to be playing with Tiger," admitted the 34-year-old Staffordshire pro, who can now bank a cheque for £291,646 after closing with a two-under-par 70. "That is a special honour in itself.

"Early on I was very nervous but I hit some good shots and then I began to think, 'why not?'"

However, any thoughts of a straightforward victory were quickly snuffed out by a bogey on the eighth and, when Woods birdied nine, the lead was back to one.

But that was as close as the American, who hit only five greens in regulation, would get.

"I was right there with a chance to win, but just didn't get the job done," said 36-year-old Woods.

"I got off to a beautiful start but misjudged the wind on the next two holes and felt I was just a touch off."

World number three McIlroy exerted a little late pressure with a birdie on the par-five last to set the clubhouse lead on 12 under.

That meant Rock, who had won only once previously on Tour in 228 attempts, at last year's Italian Open, had a two-shot cushion on the 18th tee - a cushion that would prove useful.

The man from Rugeley, who is affiliated to The Belfry, pushed his drive towards the lake and, although his ball stayed dry, he was left with a tough lie among shrubs and rocks in the hazard.

Sensibly, on the advice of his caddie, rather than try and execute a difficult escape shot, Rock elected to take a penalty drop, knowing that a bogey-six would be good enough unless Woods eagled the last.

Woods pulled his second shot into deep rough and, after he failed to hole his pitch, Rock had the luxury of two putts from 25 feet to complete comfortably the best win of his 14-year career.

It moved Rock up to second place in The Race to Dubai, while also extending his European Tour exemption until the end of 2014.

But it was not his biggest pay-day, compared to the near £500,000 he banked despite finishing runner-up to amateur Shane Lowry in an Irish Open play-off at Baltray in 2009.

"I've no idea how I feel at the moment," added Rock, whose previous best finish here was a tie for 47th. "I think it will take a few days to sink in because it was such a high quality field and I haven't done particularly well here in the past. But I played great this week and, obviously, I'm absolutely delighted."

McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, picked up five shots in his final seven holes to catapult himself up to a share of third with Denmark's Bjorn, who also shot up the leaderboard with a bogey-free 68.

The Northern Irishman followed his hole-in-one on the 12th with birdies on the 13th and 17th and then took advantage of an extraordinary piece of good fortune to birdie the last.

His third shot flew through the back of the green but cannoned off the stand onto the green just six feet from the hole.

"It was a thinned gap wedge that ricocheted off the stand to six feet for a regulation birdie," laughed McDowell.