Lee Westwood left reeling after Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello wins Dubai Desert Classic
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—As Monty Python once said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!” Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello shocked Europe’s heavyweight trio of Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer to win the Dubai Desert Classic by one shot at 18 under par after a bogey-free four-under-par 68.
It was ever thus with the Spanish in recent Dubai history. Cabrera-Bello is the third amigo in a row to take home the splendid silver coffee pot trophy (and the small sum of $416,000) following Alvaro Quiros last year and Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2010. Indeed Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal also won this tournament in the 1990s.
Westwood was the one left most crestfallen. He needed to birdie the par-5 18th to force a playoff, but had to settle for a clumsy par. He pulled his approach to the back-left fringe of the green then could only chip to 20 feet. The putt stayed above ground. Victory to 27-year-old Cabrera-Bello, a second title following his maiden triumph at the low-key 2009 Austrian Open. Chipping has long been Westwood’s Achilles’ heel, mostly because he rarely has to fall back on it because his long game is supreme. But when he had to rely on his chipping under the white-hot furnace of pressure on the final green, he could have kicked himself in the ankle with rage.
The pain of defeat was prolonged for the World No. 3. He had to suffer the indignity of what all sports stars hate—the prize-giving ceremony that requires the runner-up to attend. In this case, Westwood was joined at 17 under by Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher.
Westwood stood alone in the tunnel beneath the grandstand behind the 18th green waiting for the dignitaries and sheikhs and comfy chairs to assemble on the green. Westwood’s face looked like he had spent too long in front of a fire. He looked ready to spontaneously combust as he stared out of the darkness into the light. He probably saw only darkness. Out on the green, he sat cross-legged on a chair, arms crossed and head staring blankly at the ground as Cabrera-Bello kissed the trophy. It was purgatory for poor Westwood and rather unkind that the losers are required to volunteer for such mental torture.
Westwood’s manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler tried to put a positive note on the occasion.
“Lee’s been training like a madman and hasn’t had a drink since the New Year,” he said. “It’s not all about the result, although Lee will be disappointed. But his preparation has been superb and it’s looking good for April.”
That would be April in Augusta. But for now, Westwood was hurting, which shows what a competitive animal he is. He was in no mood for platitudes or post-round analyses when the prize giving and hand-shaking had been concluded. Too angry to speak, he stormed off the green in a huff, marched across the practice putting green and disappeared into the locker room. No chance at all for an English inquisition.
It wasn’t McIlroy’s day either. Eyebrows were raised when the World No. 2 strode onto the 1st tee. Was he sporting a red polo shirt and black pants? Or was it a more pink than red? Was he trying to channel Tiger Woods? Was he sending a message to his rivals in Dubai and to Woods at Pebble Beach?
McIlroy said he needed a fast start on Sunday. Instead, he stalled. His first drive bombed 25 yards right into the rough and he thrashed his approach around a tree onto the front of the green. Two putts and a nerves-settling par seemed a formality. Not so. With winds gusting at 25 mph, the shiny glass greens had been watered to slow them down. They were slower than they were in round three and it caught McIlroy by surprise. He left his first putt nine feet short of the hole. He looked shell-shocked. His par putt ran out of gas, too. Bogey. The shirt was not so much power red as powder-puff pink, after all, and McIlroy finished tied fifth at 14 under par.
“Usually that putt on the first green is quite quick,” he said. “You can easily knock if five or six feet by. But it came up short. Three-putting the first hole isn’t a nice way to start.”
McIlroy’s challenge was done after dropping three shots on the front. Four back-nine birdies merely eased the pain of defeat. He thrust his arms heavenwards after a birdie at the 18th, but the look on his face told everyone it was ironic rather than celebratory.
“It was just frustrating on the greens,” he said. “I gave myself a lot of opportunities on the back nine and am really pleased with how I drove the ball today. Even though that wasn’t the finish I wanted, talking the way I hit it today into the next few weeks will be nice.”
Next up will be trips to the WGC-Accenture Match Play, the Honda and Doral. And then Augusta.
But first McIlroy heads to Qatar this coming week to support his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing in an ATP even in Doha.
“It will be nice not to play on Bermuda greens for a week,” he said with a wry grin.
Westwood would no doubt agree. Except he didn’t hang around long enough to be asked.