What it’s like to play in the final group with Tiger — and win

Longtime European Tour pro Robert Rock may be best known to American fans as the guy with great hair who never wears a hat, but the 44-year old Englishman has some serious game. Not only is he still competing — and coaching! — overseas, he also has a unique perspective on the game, gleaned from decades of teeing it up alongside the world’s best.

On this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, Rock went into detail on the years when his game was in peak form and he not only won on the European Tour, but also claimed the biggest victory of his career, the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where he managed to hold off both a charging Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, whom he played alongside in the final grouping.

“I was just enjoying having a game of golf with Tiger Woods and watching him win a tournament. It was my only thought,” Rock said of the round. “I just thought, don’t be the guy that shoots 85. Piece a decent round together so that when he’s finished, he’ll be [like], that guy didn’t get in the way, he was all right, and he hit a couple of decent shots.”

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Rock signed for a third-round 66 on Saturday, birdieing his last two holes to get into the final grouping with Woods and Peter Hanson. He said he was so nervous he was shaking on the first tee, and gave up trying to line up his ball. He quickly found his rhythm, though, and built a three-shot advantage over Woods after making three birdies on his opening six holes.

Rock ended up signing for a final-round 70, two-under par, which was enough to post a one-shot victory over McIlroy, who carded a final-round 69. Woods shot 72.

“I just started that round really good,” Rock said. “It was just an odd thing.”

Rock said that Tiger’s presence encouraged him to focus on each shot — can I hit the fairway in front of him, can I hit a wedge off the fairway without fatting it? Despite gaining the three-shot advantage he had in the first third of the round, Rock said he still didn’t quite believe he would win, just that he would put up a decent fight.

“I just hit some really good shots on the back nine,” Rock said. “It was just amazing to play with him. It really, really was. I feel so lucky that I got to play with him. Whether I win or lose doesn’t really matter, to be honest.”

For more from Rock, including how he manages to both compete and coach on the European Tour at the same time, check out the full interview below.

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.