Gary Stal overcame an eight-shot 54-hole deficit to land his maiden European Tour title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
The Frenchman played some fine golf at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and capitalized on an uncharacteristic collapse from Martin Kaymer, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
The German — a three-time winner of the event — led by ten strokes at one stage during the final round, but dropped five shots over the last 10 holes.
That brought a host of players back into contention on an enthralling final day in Abu Dhabi, but Stal was the one who seized the initiative.
After making six birdies in the first 11 holes, he sank a 20-footer at the 16th to move to the top of the leaderboard at 19-under-par.
Rory McIlroy, playing in the group in front, needed an eagle at the last to reach the same mark, and almost holed his third from the sand on the closing par 5.
He had to settle for birdie, though, and when Stal two-putted from the fringe on 18, only Kaymer could force a playoff.
But the two-time major champion missed the fairway with his tee shot and failed to hole his third from 146 yards, handing the title to a tearful 22-year-old.
“It’s really crazy and I’m very happy to win this tournament. This morning, I was thinking about second place,” said Stal. “When I saw my name on the leaderboard, I started thinking, well, don’t get excited, but I’m very happy obviously. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Four things we learned at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship:
1. It’s not over until it’s over
As we all know, golf is an inherently unpredictable and capricious sport. Still, no one was expecting Kaymer — a two-time major champion and someone who’d played inspired golf over the first 60 holes — to implode like he did. After the three-time Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship winner birdied the fifth to move to 23-under-par, he was 1/500 with some bookmakers. Stal, meanwhile, was 1000/1. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. Surreal win for Stal
Before the start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Gary Stal was 357th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Now, he’s 102nd. The 22-year-old earned €379,798 for his victory in the desert, some €340,000 more than his previous biggest European Tour cheque. He’s also added his name to the list of hugely talented Frenchmen to keep an eye on over the coming years, alongside the likes of Victor Dubuisson, Romain Wattel and Alex Levy. The latter, though, endured a torrid finish at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. He three-putted from no more than three feet on the final hole, costing himself more than €20,000 in the process.
3. McIlroy’s driving prowess
Rory McIlroy may have finished in second place — his fourth top 5 in Abu Dhabi in the last five years — but there were many positives to take from his performance. He hit 88.9% of greens in regulation and he continues to drive the ball better than anyone in the world. He struggled somewhat on the greens, but if he finds some form with the flatstick over the coming months, he’ll be extremely difficult to beat at Augusta.
4. The future’s bright
There’s some exciting young talent developing on the European Tour at this moment in time. In fact, four of the top six players on the final Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship leaderboard were 24 years old or younger. Stal (22) claimed his first European Tour title, Thomas Pieters (22) earned the biggest cheque of his career, Dubuisson (24) continues to impress and Tyrrell Hatton (23) looks poised to register his first victory sooner rather than later.