Rafael Cabrera-Bello sinks late birdie to win Dubai Desert Classic

DUBAI: Rafael Cabrera-Bello was the surprise winner of the Dubai Desert Classic Sunday after sinking a nerveless birdie on the 17th hole to end on 18 under par and beat Lee Westwood and Scottish veteran Stephen Gallacher by a single shot.The unfancied Spaniard, 27, had started the day one stroke behind overnight leader Westwood, but made three birdies on the back nine to clinch his second European Tour title, belying his lowly world ranking of 119.

Westwood had teed off last along with Gallacher, 37, while Cabrera-Bello was one hole ahead.

The amiable Spaniard, who had shot a blistering nine-under 63 in the opening round, retook the lead on the final day with successive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, but on the 13th Gallacher sank an eagle and Westwood a birdie to join him on 17 under.

The trio remained tied until Cabrera-Bello’s decisive putt on 17. One hole earlier, the Spaniard had scrambled for par after shanking his tee shot into the trees, his ball ending in the sandy void between the fairways, while Westwood would rue a missed birdie chance on 16th, his 9-foot effort stopping short.

The world No. 3 was also found wanting on the 17th, rolling a 7-foot birdie putt inches wide, while Cabrera-Bello was on the par-five 18th.

His final tee shot missed the fairway, but he reached the green edge for three and eventually putted for par.

That meant Westwood, 38, and Gallacher needed to make birdies on the final hole to force a playoff. Westwood’s second shot left him just off the green, but he then played a clumsy chip that stopped 20 feet from the pin.

Now needing to putt to stay in the tournament, the Englishman’s final effort drifted left, while Gallacher fluffed a 12-foot birdie chance, handing Cabrera-Bello the title.

He became the third Spaniard in a row to hold the title after Miguel Jimenez and Alvaro Quiros had triumphed in 2010 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Westwood had started the day on 15 under, one shot ahead, while Ulsterman Rory McIlroy and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who sandwich him in the world rankings, were two strokes behind.

The two Britons had wanted tougher conditions to make the Majlis course bare its teeth following a birdie bonanza on the tranquil opening two days and they got their wish on the final round as swirling gusts of wind buffeted the fairways. That made for a tougher day around the 7,344-yard course.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 13, 2012, on page 14.




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