The shot was straight out of the Ryder Cup playbook, the celebration even more so. And, who knows, perhaps Victor Perez’s magic moment from the bunker on the 17th that essentially handed him the Abu Dhabi Championship will take the Frenchman all the way to Rome for the match against the United States in September.
When Perez’s tee shot on the 204-yard par three found the trap on the right of the green, the £1.25 million first prize suddenly seemed in huge doubt.
“Thinned it,” Perez muttered, and as he walked to the putting surface holding on grimly to a one-shot advantage over playing partner Seb Soderberg, he saw the Swede’s ball just 15 feet away.
It was a matchplay situation and Perez knew that a brave play was in order. But would he have the gumption to take it on? The answer was an emphatic yes. The 30-year-old took a full swing, sending the ball skywards before it landed on the slope behind the pin, allowing it to spin back.
When it dropped, he jumped out of the sand and chest-bumped his caddie, James Erkenbeck.
“It was probably the greatest shot I’ve ever hit,” Perez said, tears falling on the 18th at Yas Links. “I was thinking that Seb would get a two and that if I could make a three we’d be level. It worked out a bit better.”
Two shots clear, there was time left for an excruciating scare on the par-five last, when Perez’s second from a grim line in a fairway bunker screwed down the slope of the hazard on the left. Yet he wisely pitched out and played for the bogey, knowing that Soderberg would need a birdie to force the play-off and that in behind, Min Woo Lee, required an eagle to take it to extra holes.
Neither scenario came to pass – although Lee’s chip for a three came within four inches of causing pandemonium – and so Perez, the man from a small commune in the shadow of the Pyrenees, but now living in Dundee, where he met partner Abigail, could lift the biggest title of his career.
His third DP World Tour crown hauls Perez into second on the Ryder Cup points standings and affords him the tantalising opportunity to succeed where he so agonisingly failed two years ago. Perez finished in the top 12 of the standings in 2021, but unluckily missed out on one of Padraig Harrington’s three wild cards.
“This gives me a great platform for the season,” he said. “I was in this position a few years ago for Whistling Straits and maybe I can use that experience to my advantage this time around.”
Certainly, Perez will feature prominently in the mind of Luke Donald, the Europe captain. Seven days previously, Perez had starred in Continental Europe’s victory over Great Britain in the Hero Cup – the Ryder Cup dress rehearsal which took place across the city at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club – winning 3½ out of four points. “That was a great way to start the year,” he said. “It gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that I had been right with what I’d be doing during the off-season. I am emotional because so much work has gone into this.”
Perez’s immediate aim is the Dubai Desert Classic that begins in the adjacent emirate on Thursday, knowing that another good result could help him rise back into the world’s top 50 and so secure a third visit to the Masters.
Harrington will also travel to the Majlis Course brimming with self-belief having come fourth here, two behind on 16 under after a 67. There was a brief moment when the 51-year-old seemed in position to create history by becoming the oldest-ever winner on Tour, but the three-time major winner was not all displeased. The same could not be said of Shane Lowry, who finished in a tie for 28th after a 76, having begun the final round in a tie for the lead.