x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Lee Westwood taps at the door on final day of Dubai Desert Classic

The three title contenders combined to play out final five holes with just one birdie to show.

Lee Westwood of England stands with his caddie Billy Foster.
Lee Westwood of England stands with his caddie Billy Foster.

DUBAI // Five holes down the crowded Sunday stretch in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and the biggest star in the bunch ...

Well, Lee Westwood tapped in for par on No 14. And then he tapped in for par on No 15.

And then on No 16, he tapped in for par. After that, on No 17, he pretty much tapped in for par, although you could call it a long tap.

On No 18, he knocked in an afterthought of a gimme par. Thereby did galleries witness the No 3 player in the world, a contender for major honours over the past three years, perform a clinic on tapping in for par. Of course, tapping in for par indicates a high level of golf, and Westwood has played that this year in finishing 17th in Abu Dhabi, 12th in Doha and second in Dubai, with his 69-65-67-70 in Dubai a show of might.

It is just that with a bustling leaderboard, tapping in for par seems to leave a contender out of the reckoning, as Westwood certainly appeared to be during the trophy presentation last evening.

He refrained from speaking, odd for the loquacious and insightful.

The three players who separated from the field for the finish played the last five holes with a combined 14 pars and one birdie, the one Rafael Cabrera-Bello made at No 17. Otherwise, the tournament so rich in birdies through the first two days distilled into a sea of black numbers at the conclusion.

"It was tough today," said Stephen Gallacher, one of those top three finishers. "A lot of crosswinds, and you know, the greens were firming up, so it was always going to be tough."

On those greens, Westwood putted beautifully, really. His long lag putt on No 14 would have been a doozy, but it had flawless speed and turned up just shy of the hole on the left.

His long lag putt on No 15 pretty much qualified as gorgeous, pulling up in front on the right.

His birdie try on No 16, from maybe 10 feet, barely missed right. After his sonnet of a drive and a pitch he made look easy on No 17, his birdie try from about eight feet missed barely right but went by, the speed a bit less flawless than on the previous, but good enough that a par miss would have been a howler.

His last little putt on No 18 followed the chip from the left, the one that all but quashed the hopes he had nurtured through a lead after Saturday and an early eagle on No 2 yesterday.

Rory McIlroy, who wound up in a four-way tie for fifth, said of the greens: "It was difficult out there, especially today, because they didn't cut them down as low because of the wind. The grain was just, it was unbelievable."

He soon added: "I mean, the greens seemed so much slower today than they have been."

They did, however, allow for tap-ins.