Abu Dhabi has a way of bringing out the best in journeymen golfers.
A year after Robert Rock beat Tiger Woods to win the Abu Dhabi Championship, Jamie Donaldson overtook fifth-ranked Justin Rose to win only his second European Tour victory on Sunday.
Donaldson, who only won his first victory after 268 tour events last year and struggled for years with a bad back, came from two shots back to defeat the misfiring Rose on the back nine. He almost faltered on the 18 when he missed a short par putt and saw his lead cut to one. But neither Rose nor his playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen (69) could sink birdie putts to force a playoff.
"Awesome," said Donaldson, sitting next to the tournament trophy. "It was a tough field, brutal golf course ... to sit here is quite surreal. "
Rose's eight-foot birdie putt on 18 rimmed out of the hole, prompting the Englishman to throw his club in the air in frustration and Donaldson to flash a relieved smile.
Donaldson shot a final round 68 for an overall 14-under 274, earning the 37-year-old Welshman the biggest win of his career which moves him into the top 30. His success _ which started with a 19th place in the Race To Dubai last year _ means he will likely be playing in this year's Masters and the World Golf Championship for the first time. His confidence couldn't be higher, he said, and he felt his best golf was still ahead of him.
"Perseverance is a big word," Donaldson said of late-career success. "I suppose if I look back at my career, I was in the wilderness for sort of four years after an injury, I didn't really know where I was at after then. It was a case of just starting again and finding out what works."
It was Rose's tournament to lose. The Englishman had a two-shot lead over Donaldson and Olesen and led all week, hitting greens and making timely putts. But he was shaky from the start on Sunday, scrambling early to save pars and then hitting errant drives on Nos. 5, 11 and 16 that led to bogeys.
"It was a long, hard week to end up finishing second," said Rose, who missed a chance to move up to fourth in the world if he had won.
"I ran with the lead the whole way and would have been lovely to finish it off wire to wire," he said. "It's hard to close out tournaments. You can't just sit still and expect it to happen."
Rose's struggles _ he looked flat and missed several early birdie chances _ opened the door for Donaldson as well as several other players including Olesen and David Howell of England who were in contention for much of the day.
Howell (71) struck first. Trailing by four shots coming into Sunday, he ran off five birdies, including one on the 10th when his approach shot spun back toward the hole. He sank it for a one-shot lead over Rose and Donaldson but missed three putts within five feet to triple bogey No. 13. He never recovered and finished tied for sixth.
"I felt good out there and the most annoying thing was I thought I hit a beautiful shot to the 13th. It just came up four or five yards short of where I thought it was going to go and it all went wrong from there," said Howell, who is ranked 258th after fighting injuries for several years.
Olesen also made an early run with a string of birdies to draw level with Rose, only to fall back when he hit a drive on the sixth into deep rough and had to take a drop when his second ended up in bush. He settled for a double-bogey, only to put himself back into contention with three birdies on the back nine including a clutch birdie putt on No. 17.
"I started out a little bit shaky, I hit a few bad shots on the second and third, but then came back strong," said the Dane, who could have broken into the top 50 with a win. "Unfortunately I got a bad lie in the rough and hit a bad shot which cost me a double bogey which put me a little bit behind."
Donaldson started off with a birdie and grabbed another on the ninth. He three-putted on the 10th but rebounded to collect a birdie on No. 11 for his first lead of the tournament. He gave himself some breathing room when hit a great approach from thick rough and sank a 20-footer for birdie on the 14th and a nine-iron to 15. He sank the putt for his second consecutive birdie.
After Rose hit a drive into the trees for a bogey on No. 16, followed by a missed 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th, it seemed Donaldson had secured the victory. But the Welshman didn't make it easy for himself. He missed a long birdie putt on the final hole and then a five-footer for par. He settled for a bogey and figured there would a playoff.
"It was annoying to finish like that," Donaldson said. "But you need a little luck sometimes in golf to win."
Several others players made last-gasp runs, led by Brandon Grace (65) who made 10 birdies to finish four shots back in fifth including birdies on his final four holes. Three-time winner Martin Kaymer (69) tied with three others a shot back in sixth and a further shot back was American Jason Dufner (68) who tied for ninth with eight others. Dufner had five birdies on the front but ended with a bogey.