If you had polled the masses to predict a winner from the Thursday-Friday grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Stephen Gallacher at the Dubai Desert Classic, what percent would have tabbed the little-known Scotsman? And yet, it was Gallacher who put his game into form on the weekend at Emirates Golf Club to win the flagship Middle East stop for the second year in a row.
Between Woods and McIlroy, it's Rory who has to feel the sting of another squandered weekend. He should have won his 2014 debut event in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, but a 'stupid' two-shot penalty on the weekend initiated a disappointing runner-up result. This weekend, he gave it away on Sunday with an ugly 2-over 74 to drop down the first page of the leaderboard and finish four shots back of Gallacher, in a tie for ninth. With Gallacher shooting just even-par to take it, the tournament was there for Rory if he just posted a moderately impressive number in the high 60s.
The round of 63 on Thursday made it look like Rory would run away with this tournament, and get on the board early in 2014 with a win to start putting last year's disaster behind him. He stayed under par, and near the top of the leaderboard, the next two rounds but lost it all on Sunday in a frustrating march into the clubhouse. Rory's game seems to be in much better shape since the ugly early-season go with new Nike sticks in 2013, (although some numbers would say he's in the same spot as last year), but he needs to convert it into a win to get a roll going ahead of Augusta.
Unlike McIlroy, Woods was simply playing out the string on Sunday after falling into a double-digit deficit through three wayward rounds. Tiger could not find a fairway, spraying his tee balls all over the desert and then scrambling to try and make it respectable. That scrambling helped avoid the implosion we witnessed last week in San Diego, and he said he found something to get it back on track during a 1-under round of 71 on Sunday. Tiger blamed his misjudging the speed of the greens for preventing what could have been much lower number to wrap up the week. The green speed bit is a common refrain from Woods, but he did seem to have his long game in more respectable form during the final 18. He reiterated that in his postgame comments, which did not include terms like "hot pull" and "crop duster" this time (via Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel):
"The long game was certainly frustrating last week, and we got that figured out. I hit so many good putts and just kept lipping everything out," he said. "My speed was just a fraction off and the grain would snag it, or it would blow right through."
Woods was done well before the eastern U.S. put on their Super Bowl Sunday coffee, and it's not yet clear when he'll pop up in an official event next. He's up in the air for the WGC-Match Play event in Tucson, a bracket-style tournament that he's not played well at in recent years on a course at Dove Mountain that he, along with most Tour pros, does not like. So it's looking like Woods will skip the first WGC event of the year, one of several in the top 10 in OWGR to pass, and could next show up at the Honda Classic at the end of February.