ABU DHABI: England’s Tommy Fleetwood played flawless golf in gusting winds to retain his title at the $3 million Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday.
At the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the 27-year-old Englishman shot a seven-under par 65 round - with six of his birdies coming on the back nine in difficult conditions - to beat compatriot Ross Fisher by two shots.
The Southport-based world No18 made the turn at one-under par, and was five shots adrift of Fisher at the stage, but made one stunning birdie after another to edge Fisher.
Fleetwood, who is the current Order of Merit champion on the European Tour, showed his class with a superb second shot from the waste area while stymied behind a tree to six feet for birdie. He then rolled in a 25-feet putt for birdie on the 15th hole to tie for the lead, and a 50-feet putt to take outright lead on the 16th hole.
Fisher (69) started the day in impressive fashion with an eagle on the second hole, courtesy a 45-feet putt, and was four-under at the turn. But on the back nine, he made a bogey on the 10th and a solitary birdie on the 16th hole to finish on 20-under par.
Rory McIlroy, playing his first tournament in over three months, shot a 70 to tie for third place at 18-under par alongside Matthew Fitzpatrick (69). World No1 Dustin Johnson (70) finished tied ninth on 14-under par.
Overnight joint leader, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters (72), and England’s Chris Paisley (69), winner of last week’s South African Open, were tied fifth at 17-under 271.
A delighted Fleetwood felt the win validated his position as Europe’s No1 golfer.
“I feel a lot more emotional, actually, than last year. I don’t know why. I just really wanted to win this one,” said Fleetwood.
“I’ll have to think about it if I’ve played better, but I played great. Difference is all in the putts. I holed the putts on the back nine. I was just in the moment and seeing the shots.
“Last year, I had the year of my life by a long, long way on the course. And everything we’ve done since then was to make sure that we kept progressing, kept improving.
“If Justin (Rose) had shot level par on that back nine on Sunday in the (2017) DP World Tour Championship, then I wouldn’t have had won The Race to Dubai title.
“So it was sort of important to look at it that way; that maybe try and prove as if you were hurt and you had not had that whole euphoria of achieving something amazing in your career. So, all the practise has been very good. To sort of validate your position as the Player of the Year so early on is really satisfying in a way.”
Fisher, who came close to winning two big tournaments late last year (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open) before finishing second, complimented Fleetwood on his strong finish.
“Hats off to Tommy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a tournament. He’s gone out there and shot 65 and he’s won it, so all credit to him.”
McIlroy said he would have happily taken a tied-third finish if offered at the start of the tournament.
“Felt like I did everything I wanted to do,” said McIlroy, who recorded his eighth top-five finish in the tournament in last nine starts.
“Maybe, I didn’t get the ball close enough on the back nine today but apart from that it’s been really good. I’m really happy with how I played this week and it gives me confidence going into not only next week but the few months ahead, as well.”