Major Robert ready to Rock
John McAuley finds out the humble hero's take on life after his Abu Dhabi triumph...
Toppling Tiger Woods and the rest of golf’s big guns at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship has brought Robert Rock sponsorship deals, increased celebrity Stateside and a new fan base in the UAE.
However, perhaps the biggest by-product of the January triumph is the one thing that could push him to Major glory: belief.
The unassuming Englishman held the National Course in thrall at the start of the year as he emerged victorious from a Sunday shootout for the Falcon trophy with a man who he’d watched, completely captivated, romp to 14 Majors in 11 years.
Rock, winner of only the Italian Open coming into the capital clash, outgunned Woods in his final round, eventually claiming his second title with a single-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy - Woods finishing one shot further back.
“It was an amazing boost to my confidence because I didn’t realise I could win again and in such great company,” Rock, now a worldwide ambassador for Emirates Palace, tells 7DAYS. “Having won in Italy, I wanted to prove myself against a bigger field and against Tiger Woods and I’ve done that.
“I was dreadfully nervous on Sunday and fully aware that people have crumbled in that situation, and rightly so, because you’re playing a legend of the game and possibly the best ever golfer.
“But it’ll be nice to look back and be one of those people who actually came out on top. I feel like now my career’s going more along the line that I want it to be, and I doubt I’ll even be that nervous again.”
And that bodes well for Rock’s assault on the Majors.
The world No.58 narrowly missed making the top 50 to qualify for this month’s Masters, but has set his sights on proving in golf’s grandest arenas that his Abu Dhabi delight - Rock reigned supreme against the second strongest field in European Tour history - wasn’t a one-off.
“I’m maybe not in a position to say I can win one, but I know from the experience in Abu Dhabi that I’m not going to be playing with or against anybody that can make me nervous,” he says. “But I’d like to feel that type of pressure again and the Major championships are the ones to do that.
“The Majors are what I’m looking at results-wise, but also to make sure my game’s getting better so I’ll keep threatening to win tournaments.”
And his newfound popularity in America may just give Rock an advantage for Europe’s September defence of the Ryder Cup on enemy soil at Medinah Country Club.
“Might make it a little bit easier,” the understated 35-year-old jokes. “Might not boo me as much.”
BUBBA'S A BELTER
“I became more of a Bubba Watson fan than I was,” Rock says of the new Masters champion. “It’s refreshing to see someone playing in a manner you think isn’t suited to tournament golf.” Asked if he’d alter his game to include trick shots from trees, Rock added: “Nope. I’ve been there plenty in the past. And I didn’t enjoy it.”