LONDON (Reuters) - A golfing fairytale came true when little-known Briton Robert Rock outplayed 14-times major winner Tiger Woods in a final round shootout to land the Abu Dhabi Championship title.
Ten years ago, Rock was selling confectionery and tee pegs behind the counter of a club shop near Birmingham but in the Middle East on Sunday, he held his nerve over the closing holes to eclipse the finest players in the modern-day game.
”It’s pretty hard to believe I managed to win,“ the 34-year-old Englishman told reporters after completing a one-stroke victory. ”It hasn’t sunk in what I achieved.
“I need a few days to contemplate winning this. It was such a good field,” he added, referring to Woods and the top four players in the world rankings - Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
Rock, with a name that would not look out of place on a leading film actor and the Hollywood good looks to match, remembered having no grand plans when he played his first full season among the elite in 2003.
”I had been playing local PGA events like club pros do,“ he explained. ”It was a slim chance to play my way on to some European Tour events through that route.
“That was my goal. At that point, I was just hoping to play a few European Tour events in my career,” he added.
“Working at golf clubs is not the easiest way to reach the top. You would think you would be playing a lot of golf but actually you don‘t.”
Rock, who has climbed to 55th in the world from number 117 after his surprise Abu Dhabi win, said he was jittery at the prospect of playing alongside former number one Woods in the final round.
”I was a little nervous on the way to the course,“ last year’s Italian Open champion added. ”I was struggling because I was playing with Tiger - that’s a pretty big deal.
“But I think chatting to Tiger briefly on Saturday helped. It would have been harder if the first time I met him was on the first tee.”
Rock said he almost expected to be blown away by the 36-year-old American on Sunday.
“If he was going to shoot eight or nine-under par and beat me by miles, that would have been fine by me,” he added.
“I was just planning to try and hit decent shots and settle into the round. But Tiger was a pleasure to play with - he was really cool.”
A red-faced Rock revealed an incident the pair were involved in by the 10th tee.
“A couple of marshals had gone to the side of the tee and they were walking around on wood chips, making quite a bit of noise,” the Englishman said.
”When I got ready to hit my iron shot and I heard the same thing, I shouted, ‘Stand still please’, and it was Tiger.
“But he laughed and was just fine. I shouldn’t have done that.”
The second victory of Rock’s career has earned him a place at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio in August and the Champions Tournament in China in November.
Rock is a rarity among golfers in that he rarely wears headgear and he said he was unlikely to change the habit.
“I don’t like playing in a hat,” said the lightly bearded Englishman.
“Sometimes places we go where it’s very hot and sunny I might be tempted to wear a visor but I don’t like doing it.”
Editing by John O'Brien; To comment on this story: firstname.lastname@example.org