By Matt Smith
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - France’s Gary Stal dispatched a final round 65 to snatch an unlikely victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Sunday as overnight leader Martin Kaymer blew a mid-round 10 stroke lead.
Stal, ranked 357th in the world, earned a first European Tour victory and a check for $450,000 after a stunning turnaround on the National course.
His captured the win with a total of 19 under 269, ahead of world number one Rory McIlroy (66), who ended on 270, and Kaymer (75) on 271.
“I played very good today and I’m very happy to win,” Stal, 22, told reporters. “When I saw my name on the leader board I thought “it’s possible, so take that chance and go get it”.”
Stal’s previous best Tour performance was fifth at last week’s South Africa’s Open, a result he said gave him confidence to excel in Abu Dhabi.
“I will celebrate with my friends and my dad,” Stal added.
For U.S. Open champion Kaymer, Sunday’s capitulation must rank among the 30-year-old’s worst days in golf.
Starting six strokes clear of Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, the German’s unlikely nearest challenger, he sunk three birdies in the opening four holes to move to 23-under, one adrift of the event record he set in winning the Falcon Trophy in 2011.
Yet Kaymer’s early-tournament brilliance with the putter had masked sometimes untidy approach play and those flaws returned as he bogeyed the sixth, double-bogeyed nine and tripled-bogeyed 13 after being forced to take penalty drops at the latter two.
That dragged him back to 17 under -- he was 10 strokes ahead after five holes -- and put his hopes of a fourth Abu Dhabi crown in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Stal, who began Sunday eight adrift of Kaymer, sunk six birdies from holes four to 11, jumping to 18 under.
A day earlier, four-times major winner McIlroy, 25, had dismissed his chances of catching Kaymer after a dismal outing with the putter left the Northern Irishman eight strokes behind.
Yet he mounted his now customary late birdie surge, and a sixth of the round at 15 put him within a shot of the summit.
But Stal responded by picking up another shot on the 16th and when McIlroy failed with an eagle chip that shaved the hole on the final green the title was all but Stal’s.
A shaken Kaymer, who had gone 47 holes without dropping a shot until the bogey on the ninth hole, had no response, failing to birdie any of the last 14 holes.
(Reporting by Matt Smith, editing by Pritha Sarkar)