x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Chris Wood saves best for last while Sergio Garcia defends Rory McIlroy

US tournament also snags top players from Desert Swing events, writes Steve Elling and John McAuley.

Chris Wood of England recorded his first career victory at the Qatar Masters last weekend.
Chris Wood of England recorded his first career victory at the Qatar Masters last weekend.

Middle East drama

When Chris Wood eagled the par-5 18th hole to win last Saturday in Qatar, he joined some exclusive company. The last time a European Tour event was won by a single stroke by a player making an eagle on the 72nd hole was in 2007, when Retief Goosen pulled the same trick in Qatar.

Indeed, the last three instances in which a player eagled the 72nd to win by a stroke all took place in the Middle East, with Ernie Els winning the 2005 DDC with a three on the par-5 18th. Wood, who recorded his first career victory, pulled off an interesting turnaround from six days earlier. In Abu Dhabi, he finished last among those who made the cut with weekend rounds of 77-75.

Sympathy from Garcia

The former world No 2 Sergio Garcia is not too concerned about the rough start of the world No 1 Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut by four shots two weekends ago in Abu Dhabi, then headed off for a holiday, and eventually, practice with his new clubs. "We'll see how he gets fitted and used to his new equipment and everything and how he settles in," said Garcia, who finished joint second on Saturday in Qatar.

"He's obviously got great skills and is a wonderful player ... I don't give too much credit to what happened in Abu Dhabi, because it's normal after having two great seasons and you change all your equipment and get a big contract with Nike. It's easy to get into Abu Dhabi and feel quite nervous and not know what to expect."

Frequent-flyer miles

Over the past few seasons, the Desert Swing events have more than held their own in comparison to the early season events in the United States, but that certainly is not the case this week, where the Phoenix event has reeled in 18 players from the top 50 in the world rankings, while Dubai has seven.

Two world-weary players to watch this week: Jason Dufner and Martin Kaymer, who each played in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, then jetted 8,000 miles to the Phoenix area to play this week.

Clarke still recovering

The former British Open champion Darren Clarke is said to be recovering well from a traffic accident last week in Ireland, which forced him to withdraw from the DDC this week. Clarke was driving his Mercedes ML 60 when he was hit by another motorist, leaving him stiff and shook up, his management firm said.

Woods takes his time

The victory by Tiger Woods in San Diego on Monday was the talk of the DDC yesterday, though not for the reasons you might suspect. It took Woods's threesome a stupefying one hour, 45 minutes to play 11 holes in the weather-delayed final round, generating catcalls from fans demanding heavier fines or one-shot penalties for those who dawdle.

An official confirmed on Tuesday that to date, no players had been fined for slow play on the European Tour this year.

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