x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Rory McIlroy gets the roars, but Martin Kaymer is too good

Supporters cheer on the underdog at Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, but the young Northern Irishman comes up short against three-time winner Martin Kaymer.

Rory McIlroy was given great support as he tried to catch runaway leader Martin Kaymer yesterday. Jeff Topping / The National
Rory McIlroy was given great support as he tried to catch runaway leader Martin Kaymer yesterday. Jeff Topping / The National

Martin Kaymer proves too strong for McIlroy, despite strong backing for the Northern Irishman, writes Ahmed Rizvi

When Lee Westwood, the world No 1, teed off for his final round in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship a few minutes before 8am yesterday, there were fewer than a dozen people in the stands behind him.

Two hours later, Phil Mickelson heard only a muted applause as he started his day, and Retief Goosen did not draw much of a crowd, either.

The stands were packed, however, when Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy appeared at the National Course.

The crowd had swelled to a few hundred, with many lining the course, as Kaymer took his position on the opening tee with a five-shot lead over McIlroy, his closest pursuer.

An even louder cheer erupted when McIlroy arrived. There was no guessing who was the crowd favourite.

The Northern Irishman, born in a place called Holywood, was clearly the darling of the majority of the fans.

"Come on, Rory," whispered a fan, as the 21-year-old took his stance over the ball. A loud roar erupted as he teed off.

Kaymer, the winner of the 2010 PGA Championship and the European Tour Golfer of the Year award, dampened their mood, though, as he opened with a huge tee shot.

"Khallas," said a Filipino fan, shrugging his shoulders. "It's finished."

His ominous announcement, however, was not shared by many of the McIlroy fans.

They streamed onwards, though a few of them seemed clearly unaware about the sport's finer intricacies.

As McIlroy was sizing up his approach shot on the second, a hole dotted by a number of sand bunkers, two women were in an animated discussion about bunkers and birdies, with a man answering their queries.

Both McIlroy and Kaymer avoided the bunkers and promptly got their birdies; Kaymer, though, must have been disappointed not to be flying ahead after missing an eagle.

McIlroy became a victim of the bunkers on the next hole with his tee shot landing in the sand.

The fans sighed. "It's not his day," said an elderly woman.

Trying to chip out of trouble, McIlroy landed in the rough. And he did it again, finishing with a bogey to drop further behind Kaymer. "That's it, game over," a man announced to his friends. "That's the title for Kaymer."

"It is going to be impossible for Rory to catch him from here," said the woman alongside him.

Hopeless, they still continued on their trek around the course.

By the fifth, Kaymer had increased his lead to eight shots with McIlroy getting his second bogey of the day. He recovered with a birdie on the next, but by now everybody had accepted the inevitable outcome.

"I wish it was closer," said Karim Jaffer, as he chased the duo around the course with his wife in tow. He was rushing her around to get to the best vantage points and had an earphone feeding him all the finer details from broadcasters.

"I took off from work to come here," he said. "It would have been great if Rory was challenging Kaymer, but that is the beauty of golf - you can enjoy it even without the competition you expect in other sports."

Walking in the pleasant weather certainly had its appeal, but a few of the fans found themselves tiring a bit by the sixth hole and were desperately seeking refreshment.

"We knew it would be difficult for Rory," said Andrew McLeish, who had driven from Dubai, as he sipped on his coffee from the balcony of the makeshift refreshment outlet.

"Still, we were hoping for a tight finish, but Kaymer has just been relentless."

Kaymer hit the back-nine with a vengeance, notching birdies on the 10th, 13th, 16th and 18th. The crowd had swelled into the thousands by now and McIlroy did give his fans something to cheer with two consecutive birdies as he started his return journey.

But he then dropped a stroke and his misfortune on the final day was typified by the two contrasting approach shots to the green on the 18th.

While Kaymer landed within two yards of the pin, McIlroy found himself in the rough. But it was already too late for the McIlroy brigade.

The German flag was already hanging over from the balconies of the VIP enclosures overlooking the greens.

To double their celebration, Kaymer finished with a birdie. He turned around and saluted his fans, who were waving the German flags.