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01 October 2023

Stenson, Cabrera-Bello share Champions Challenge honours

Henrik Stenson and Rafael Cabrera-Bello with Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Federation, Hesham Al Qassim, CEO and vice-chairman of wasl, Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice-chairman and CEO of golf in Duai, and Malik Bey, regional sales manager of Omega, at Emirates Golf Club. (SUPPLIED)

By Staff

European number one Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello were declared joint winners of the Champions Challenge as world number one Tiger Woods settled for a tied eighth on one-under 71 at Emirates Golf Club on Tuesday.

Stenson and Cabrera-Bello carded an identical six-under 66 each to finish a good two strokes ahead of Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Alvaro Quiros of Spain in the $600,000 showpiece event which was part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

The 18-hole stroke-play event saw all but one of the past champions reunite on this special occasion. The great Seve Ballesteroes, the winner of the 1992 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, was represented by his son, Javier, who, playing as an amateur, returned a two-over 74.

Stenson, the 2007 winner, carded six birdies, three in each half, in his flawless round while Cabrera-Bello moved atop the leaderboard with a strong birdie-birdie finish, the only blemish in his card being a bogey on the fifth.

“It turned to be a pretty competitive affair,” said Stenson, “When you feel like you have a chance to do something good, you get going and I was trying to make birdies,” said the Swede after sharing the day’s honours with Cabrera-Bello.

“I made Dubai my home for close to ten years,” said the Swede. “It's a great place for me, this, and it's always good fun to be back, and celebrating the 25th anniversary this year is also very special.

“There's not many tournaments going on for that many years and we had a great roll of champions here so it's been a good event.”

Cabrera-Bello felt the front nine was a little up and down.

"But I played very well,” said the 2012 winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “Myself and the other Spanish players all feel very comfortable here,” said the two time European Tour winner.

“We are all from Spain and obviously the weather is very warm over there. We all enjoy playing in short sleeves.

“Everyone likes this one, especially as Seve and Ollie and Miguel and Alvaro and myself have won.  It's a very good atmosphere and we all have good stories going around here so it's a positive surrounding for us."

Woods may have finished in a tie for eighth, thanks to a double-bogey on the closing hole when he found the water, but said it was fun playing in the event.

“Playing with Fred (Couples) is always a blast. I have known him for so long and he is almost like a big brother to me,” said Woods who was paired with Couples and Steve Gallacher in the final group.

“I had not played with Steve for a long time, but we were talking about our Walker Cup way back in 1995 or something,” he added.

About the course conditions, he said: “The rough is certainly thick and lush and the fairways are on the softer side. Seems like they put a lot of overseed in them and the greens are absolutely immaculate.

The world number seven McIlroy also felt the course is in great shape.

“The greens are firm, as firm and as fast as I have ever seen, especially for it being the start of the week. It should be a good test,” said McIlroy.

All the former winners of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic were honoured with life-time membership of Emirates Golf Club by Hesham Al Qassim, CEO and vice-chairman of wasl.

Leading Champions Challenge scores:

66 – Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spain)
68 – Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland), Alvaro Quiros (Spain
69 – Stephen Gallacher (Scotland)
70 – Fred Couples (US), Robert-Jan Derksen (the Netherlands)
71 – Tiger Woods (US), Thomas Bjorn (Denmark)
72 – Mark O’Meara (US), David Howell (England), Jose Coceres (Argentina)
Miguel Anmgel Jimenez (Spain).