x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

All to gain when there is nothing to lose

Robert Rock's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship win threw fresh light upon a likeable new champion who combined a good audacity with a fine humility.

Robert Rock was not expected to win the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Robert Rock was not expected to win the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

The storybook yarn that spun out of Abu Dhabi Golf Club yesterday bolstered an old but intriguing notion:

When finding oneself in the otherworldly situation of playing on a tournament Sunday alongside Tiger Woods, it helps to be nameless.

It helps to have avoided the inconvenience of fame and high rankings.

It helps to have spent the teen years not hearing too much about one's own greatness, and then minimal time as an adult strolling through courses to cascading cheers from spectators.

It helps if you never picked up a club until age 19, as with one YE Yang, who bested Woods famously at the 2009 PGA Championship.

It helps if nine years ago at 25, you were the professional at the Swingers Golf Centre in Lichfield, England, selling chocolate bars and golf tees as one inquirer so deftly put it yesterday to Robert Rock, who bested Woods dreamily at the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

If you end up saying: "This might be my last win as a golfer, but it sure is a great day," as did Yang, then you're just the guy who might beat the greatest.

If you end up saying: "It's very hard to believe that I managed to win today," as did Rock, then step right up, grab a lead, hang on to it and then try to deal with the believing part through the ensuing years.

Yang ranked No 110 on Sunday, August 16, 2009, when he became the first player in 16 majors to defeat Woods after Woods led or shared the third-round lead.

Compared to Yang, maybe Rock had more hope.

He ranked No 117. In his television interview just after, he said he had been "struggling to reach the 100 mark".

Translation: step right up! You're just the guy!

When Yang shot 70 to Woods 75 that day in Minnesota, it contradicted years upon years of prominent golfers seeing Woods on Sunday and seeing their games go mangled, possibly because they overdid things.

Through a Korean-English interpreter, Yang said: "I just think that the good players" - note he did not include himself therein - "the great names, when they tee off with Tiger, their competitive juices sort of flow out and they go head-to-head and try to win.

"For me, I don't consider myself a great golfer."

That's good, evidently. Continuing: "I'm still more of the lower than average PGA tournament players. So my goal was today to just hit at least even, not go over par.

"I think that's probably the different mindset that I had."

Mull Yang's ludicrous, wondrous theory for just a moment: it helps to be worse. And hurl that very thought upon the enchanting pile of golf mysteries.

Woozy in disbelief last evening, Rock said of Yang's theory: "I don't really know.

"I was just pretty determined to try to play the way I was playing and hopefully without being too nervous, I could continue to hit some decent shots.

"But he's such a good player that if he decides to play his very, very best, you're probably not going to beat him. So there's not much you can do."

In the vagaries of golf, comprehending that might matter.

So while the calendar and the continents gush with tournaments such that it is hard for any non-major to distinguish itself, Abu Dhabi did wind up rich in distinctions.

It became where Woods gave an accurate rendition of Woods again, especially with his straightness on a course with punishing rough where he hit 46 of 54 greens in the first three rounds before fading to four-for-18 in the fourth.

It became where we talked about Woods again in a pre-November 2009 manner, as with comparing Yang then to Rock now. It lent a hopeful shine on the four majors of 2012.

And then it threw fresh light upon a likeable new champion who combined a good audacity with a fine humility.

For the former, Rock followed a bogey on No 16 on Saturday with birdies on Nos 17 and 18, just aching for the experience of a Sunday Woods grouping and all its lunacy, saying thereafter: "Well, I just want to experience it."

For the latter, there came his very next sentence: "How many chances I'll get to do that, it's not clear, so there was one there slipping away, so I had to do something about that."

Asked then about the idea of winning against Woods, Rock said: "Oooh, can we deal with that tomorrow? No idea. It would be beyond anything that I thought I would do."

In fact, it might have been unimaginable, which in turn might make it possible, which if you think about it is really rather wonderful.


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