ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Gary Stal of France came from 10 shots back to capitalize on an improbable meltdown by Martin Kaymer and win the Abu Dhabi Championship after a frantic final round on Sunday.
Kaymer looked to be cruising to a fourth title in Abu Dhabi after making three birdies in his opening four holes to extend his six-stroke lead from overnight, only to drop six shots in seven holes around the turn.
The No. 357-ranked Stal pounced with six birdies from Nos. 4-11 and held himself together down the stretch, picking up another shot at the 16th to capture his first European Tour title. He shot a 7-under 65 and was 19-under 269 overall.
Kaymer shot 75 for a 17-under total and third place. When he teed off on No. 6, he was 10 shots clear on 23 under — and only a shot off his record score around the National Course.
“A little shocked, surprised,” Kaymer said. “I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy had a 66 to finish a shot behind Stal in second, where he has now placed four times in Abu Dhabi.
Kaymer, a two-time major winner, is renowned as one of the best front-runners in golf and had been in supreme form in his first tournament of the year with rounds of 64, 67 and 65. He hadn’t made a bogey since the 12th hole on Thursday and McIlroy even said Kaymer was “playing his own tournament.”
After birdies at Nos. 1, 2 and 4, Kaymer’s final round started to unravel when he made a bogey at No. 6 and then a double bogey at No. 10 after being forced to take a drop when his drive landed under a bush.
Kaymer lost the lead he had held since the first round when another drive wound up at the base of a bush on No. 13. A drop gave him a poor lie in the sandy wasteland and after chipping out into the fairway, he scuffed his approach shot 10 yards short of the green. He two-putted for a triple bogey and Stal was in front for the first time.
“When I saw the leaderboard on the fifth hole, I saw Martin Kaymer on 23-under par,” said a stunned Stal. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw he was (17 under) after 15 holes.”
Stal, playing in the group in front of Kaymer, sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th to move two shots ahead of Kaymer and McIlroy. Stal’s approach to the 18th was tentative and landed in the rough to the right of the green, but he got up and down in two.
Kaymer, who won in Abu Dhabi in 2008, ’10 and ’11, needed to eagle the last for a playoff but he only managed a par.
“I can’t believe this,” said Stal, whose best previous finish was fifth.