ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Rickie Fowler won the Abu Dhabi Championship for his fourth worldwide victory in nine months, shooting a 3-under 69 in his final round Sunday to win by one stroke from playing partner Thomas Pieters.
Fast-finishing Rory McIlroy (68) and Henrik Stenson (67) tied for third.
Fowler’s victory was tighter than expected, with the American holding a four-shot lead after six holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
That was trimmed to one on No. 7 after thinning a shot through the green out of sandy wasteland and making double-bogey, but he chipped in for eagle from 30 yards from a greenside bunker on No. 8 to move clear again.
Pieters emerged from a congested pack to chase Fowler all the way. Fowler holed from just off the 17th green for a birdie to take a two-shot cushion down the last, but Pieters made a birdie – he missed his eagle putt by an inch – to leave Fowler two putts to win from 12 feet. He needed both of them.
”I had a lot of fun going toe to toe with Thomas Pieters,” Fowler said as he held the Falcon Trophy near the 18th green. ”This was my first full field in 2016 and is a great way to start.”
The win is likely to lift Fowler’s ranking from No. 6 to No. 4, which will spark talk about whether he should be included in the conversation with the so-called ”Big Three” of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and McIlroy as golf looks ahead to a hectic, exciting 2016.
Spieth also played in Abu Dhabi this week – as part of his grueling global tour – and was tied for fifth, five shots behind Fowler. Stenson is currently ranked No. 5.
”We had a very strong field here,” Fowler said. ”A lot of the guys were playing well. This is a step in the right direction.”
Fowler had three wins in 2015 – at The Players Championship, the Scottish Open, and the Deutsche Bank Championship. This is the first time he has won during the first four months of a year.
It was another near miss for McIlroy, who adds a third place to his four runner-up finishes in Abu Dhabi at what is always his first event of each year.
The No. 3-ranked McIlroy started the final round three shots behind Fowler and only came on strong down the stretch, chipping in for birdie on No. 16 and rolling in a 35-foot eagle putt on No. 18.
Pieters, a big-hitting Belgian, went even closer. He moved to within one shot of Fowler with a birdie on No. 13 but only parred his way to the 18th.
Spieth shot a third 68 of the week and acknowledged after his round that he was ”beat up, mentally and physically,” having played in South Korea, China, Australia, Bahamas, Hawaii and now Abu Dhabi since October.