Section: Abu Dhabi Championship

Golf: Abu Dhabi Championship: Gary Stal beats Martin Kaymer to title

Martin Kaymer blew a six-shot overnight lead to hand Gary Stal his first win on the European Tour at the Abu Dhabi Championship in a frantic final round.

Kaymer looked like cruising to a fourth title in Abu Dhabi after making three birdies in his opening four holes, even threatening his record of 24-under from 2011, but a bogey at six – his first dropped shot 47 holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club – was followed by a double at nine and a triple-bogey seven at 13.

Stal, ranked 357 in the world at the start of the week, pounced with six birdies between holes 4 to 11 and held himself together down the stretch, picking up another shot at the 16th to capture his maiden title on the main tour thanks to a seven-under 65 for 19-under overall.

Kaymer shot 75 for 17-under and third place behind world No.1 Rory McIlroy, who has now finished in the top two in his last six European Tour events.

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Golf: Rory McIlroy eight shots behind Martin Kaymer in Abu Dhabi

Germany’s Martin Kaymer is on the verge of winning a fourth Abu Dhabi Championship title, having opened a six-shot lead after three rounds.

The US Open champion had seven birdies in his first 13 holes during a bogey-free round of 65 to reach 20 under.

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters is second after a two-under-par 70.

World number one Rory McIlroy, only two behind overnight, saw a series of putts stay up and only two birdies in a 71 left him tied for fifth on 12 under.

McIlroy, yet to add the Abu Dhabi tournament to his comprehensive list of titles, has been runner-up three times in the last four years, but his chances of victory were hampered by taking 34 putts on day three.

“I hit the ball as well as I did yesterday, gave myself so many chances and didn’t convert any really. Very wasteful and looking like I am playing for second tomorrow,” said a disconsolate McIlroy, who had a hole-in-one in round two.

Kaymer has now gone 42 holes without dropping a shot and on the rare occasion when he did find trouble he produced a superb escape on the 10th hole.

The world number 12’s second shot went left and lodged in a bush, but having taken a drop and then found a bunker with his fourth, he holed out from the sand for a remarkable par five.

“The main goal was to still lead the golf tournament, it was a little bit of an up and down round so therefore a 65 is a great score,” said Kaymer, who eclipsed Paul Casey’s record total for the third round by one shot.

Asked whether he was focused on his own tournament record of 24 under set in 2011 he said: “I’m not really thinking about the record but a good score will hopefully mean I will win.”

Shot of the year winner Jamie Donaldson, the 2013 champion, had seven birdies and an eagle in his 65 and the Welshman shares sixth place on 11 under.

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Golf: Rory McIlroy hits first competitive hole-in-one

Rory McIlroy made his first competitive hole-in-one as a professional in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

The world No.1 threw his hands in the air and high-fived playing partner Rickie Fowler after his nine-iron from 177 yards at the par-three 15th landed a yard from the hole, hopped right and trickled into the cup.

“It never left the pin,” McIlroy said after ticking off one of the few things he’d yet to achieve in his golf career.

A six-under 66 – completed with a 15-foot birdie putt at No.18 – moved McIlroy into third place at 11 under, two shots behind Kaymer, to set up a potentially thrilling duel over the weekend between two players who won three of last year’s majors.

McIlroy will do well to dislodge Kaymer, though. The US Open champion followed up a first-round 64 with a 67 to give himself a great chance of a fourth title at the National Course – where he won in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Kaymer, who maintained his one-stroke lead from overnight, is a strong front-runner – as shown by his wire-to-wire victories in last year’s US Open and in Abu Dhabi in 2008. He is even threatening to challenge his own record-low total in this tournament, set in 2011 when he shot a 24-under 264.

“It’s one of the only tournaments where you stand on the first tee and you pretty much know you have birdied every single hole,” said Kaymer, whose second-round highlight came on his 10th hole when he chipped in for birdie from a greenside bunker.

Separating Kaymer and McIlroy on the leaderboard is Thomas Pieters, the 22-year-old Belgian who is starting to fulfil his potential.

Pieters, seeking a first European Tour win, shot a 67 for 12 under.

Among the players to miss the cut – at two under – in the first tournament in the annual Desert Swing were defending champion Pablo Larrazabal, world No.2 Henrik Stenson and Italy’s Matteo Manassero. Fowler shot a 75 to drop to two under and just make the weekend.

McIlroy recalled making 10 holes-in-one, the last coming in a pro-am two years ago. His first came at the age of nine and was also a nine-iron, on that occasion from 106 yards at his home course in Holywood, Northern Ireland.

But one of the most thrilling feats in golf had evaded him in competitive professional play until he stepped up at No.15, slightly downbeat after missing very makeable birdie putts on the 13th and 14th holes.

He stayed in his pose as the ball drew in, kicked right on landing and took a couple of small bounces before dropping in.

“I didn’t need to get the putter out on that hole,” said McIlroy, who walked up to the cup, repaired his pitch mark and scooped the ball out to cheers from the crowd.

McIlroy was delighted with his ball-striking on a day that revived memories of his stunning year in 2014, when he won two majors and returned to world No.1. He has quickly shaken off the rust following time off over Christmas.

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