Frenchman Victor Perez drained a dramatic bunker shot at the 71st hole of the week on his way to claiming the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links and with it took a huge step toward earning automatic qualification for Europe’s Ryder Cup team just one week after sharing top-scorer honours at the Hero Cup.
The 30-year-old resident of Scotland carded a 6-under-par 66 in the final round to set an 18-under total of 270, which his nearest challengers, Australia’s Min Woo Lee and Sweden’s Sebastian Söderberg, fell one shot short of matching.
The victory was the third for Perez on the DP World Tour, his first in a Rolex Series event and comfortably the most significant of his career.
Entering Sunday in a tie for fourth, Perez posted six birdies in the first 11 holes to move three strokes clear of the field, but when he made a third bogey of the week at the short par-4 14th, he allowed Lee and Söderberg back into the mix.
His response was superb. Ignoring the challenge of playing the 486-yard par-4 15th into the teeth of the wind, Perez made a bounce-back birdie before delivering the decisive blow after his tee shot at the par-3 17th found a bunker short of the green. The Sky Sports commentary team argued that he couldn’t run the ball down to the pin, that he must fly it to hole and “accept 6 feet for par.”
Perez did better than that. “It came out a little skinny; I’m not going to lie,” he said with a laugh afterwards of a shot that landed 8 feet past the cup and spun back into the hole to create a crucial two-shot advantage over the chasers. Despite the element of luck, he added: “Probably the best shot of my life.”
“It’s a great year ahead, and I’ve worked really hard in the off-season for moments like this."
A thrilling final-day charge for the line was yet to be settled, however. Perez hit his tee shot at the par-5 18th into a fairway bunker, and his escape also was errant. “It was a horrible lie,” he said of the sand shot. “Giant fortune that it didn’t end up in the ocean. A crazy finish.”
He took his punishment, tacked his way to the green in four blows and two-putted for bogey. Söderberg failed to make the birdie that would have tied his playing competitor before, in the final group, Lee’s pitch from greenside rough settled near the hole instead of in it for the eagle he needed to force extra holes.
Pádraig Harrington, the 51-year-old Irishman who won four times last year on PGA Tour Champions but is seeking his first title on the DP World Tour in 6½ years, led all scorers on the weekend with 64-67 to surge into solo fourth at 272.
Harrington was visibly relishing a return to main tour contention – eyes wide, teeth perched on his bottom lip – and explained that his Champions Tour experience last year, when he won four times, had revived his competitive spirits.
For a second year in succession, Harrington’s compatriot Shane Lowry headed into the final round at Yas Links with victory in his sights. Last year, he was one blow back and carded a 77. This year, he was tied for the lead and slumped home in 76 for a share of 28th.
Perez had gained confidence when claiming 3½ points from his four matches for the winning Continental European team in last week’s Hero Cup and rode the wave. The victory in Abu Dhabi lifts him to second place in the European Ryder Cup qualification points list.
“It’s a great year ahead, and I’ve worked really hard in the off-season for moments like this,” he told Sky Sports. He then checked himself, wiped away a few tears and added: “It’s just great.”