x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Cabrera-Bello win ensures Spanish reign continues in Dubai

Stephen Gallacher, whose play-off hopes are dashed with a missed putt, finishes joint second.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello is the fifth Spaniard to win the Dubai Desert Classic.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello is the fifth Spaniard to win the Dubai Desert Classic.

DUBAI // Rafael Cabrera-Bello borrowed the trademark victory celebration of a more heralded Spanish Rafael on Sunday night, as he clamped his teeth down on the Omega Dubai Desert Classic trophy.

He may be a few wins shy of his tennis-playing namesake Nadal, but he clearly has the requisite charisma to carry off the look.

It is a good job the bite-the-trophy celebration is not compulsory for all Spanish sportsmen, or the Classic's Coffee Pot would have sprung a few leaks by now.

In inheriting the trophy from his close friend Alvaro Quiros, the 27 year old from Gran Canaria became the third successive Spanish winner of the Classic.

No nation has more winners of the UAE's best-established European Tour event than the five of Spain, with the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez completing a luminous list.

"It's a really amazing feeling to be a little part of the same history as them," said Cabrera-Bello, whose sister Emma played in the Dubai Ladies Masters around the same course in December.

"I wasn't thinking of which Spaniards had won here because I think that could only lead to me putting more pressure on myself.

"I feel really proud that my name is going to be on the same trophy as Ballesteros, Olazabal, Jimenez and my great friend Alvaro."

The UAE has attracted a sparkling cast for its two Desert Swing events over the past two weeks, but Cabrera-Bello's success here was the second for a player from outside the world's top 100.

Like Robert Rock, who beat the world's top four players, Tiger Woods, plus everyone else besides, to win in Abu Dhabi, this was Cabrera-Bello's second win on Tour.

It will have a similar effect to Rock's win around The National Course, moving him from 119th at the start of the week to around 60th in the world rankings this morning.

"This will open a lot of doors for me and this was really the quality jump in my game I was looking for, and I had been practising hard for it," he said.

In another echo of Rock, the lesser light was not cowed by having some of the biggest names in the sport up with him, as the leaderboard bunched over the last nine holes.

Lee Westwood, the world No 3, could have forced a play-off, but botched his chip to the last hole.

Rory McIlroy would have moved to within 0.724 of Luke Donald at the top of the world rankings had he won here, but he had to settle for fifth. "It was a little disappointing considering the position I was in going into the weekend, but all the damage was done [with his level par 72 in round three]," McIlroy said.

The idea that the 2012 Desert Swing has been a triumph for the Tour's lesser known players was confirmed by the strong showing of Marcel Siem and Stephen Gallacher at the Classic.

Gallacher, who started the week ranked 148th, missed a putt of his own at the 18th to force a play-off but finished tied for second. It was not a bad return, bearing in mind he was struggling with his long game.

"My driver broke last week, so I'm still playing with one that's not quite right," Gallacher said. "First on the priority list is to get a driver that suits me."

Siem finished fourth after an erratic end to his fourth round, having started the tournament placed 223rd in the global standings.

"I think I became a lot better with my emotions on the golf course, especially when you play with guys like Westwood," Siem said. "It is something I can learn off and the more times I am in the last group and can play with those guys, the better I get."

pradley@thenational.ae