Nicolai Højgaard provided a glimpse into the future as a stunning finish – five birdies in his final six holes – saw the prodigiously talented 22-year-old Dane charge to victory in the DP World Tour Championship on The Earth course in Dubai.
A final round 64 for a total of 21-under-par 267 gave Højgaard a third European Tour career win but first of the season. His payday of €2.76 million also propelled him to number two – behind Rory McIlroy – on the final order of merit and moved him to a career-best 50th in the official world rankings.
Another subplot at play in the final round concerned the destination of 10 cards to the PGA Tour, with Højgaard’s twin brother Rasmus just missing out. The 10 claimants were: Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjørn Olesen, Alex Björk, Sami Valimaki, Bob MacIntrye, Matthieu Pavon, Jorge Campillo and Ryo Hisatsune.
The other loose end to the season-ending tournament had already been tied up, with McIlroy claiming a fifth career Harry Vardon Trophy for topping the order of merit.
“I think it shows my consistency year-to-year. I think over the last 10 years, I think I’ve won eight season-long titles between America and [Europe], so it just shows my level of consistency,” said McIlroy.
“I said to Harry [Diamond] on the last green, there’s a few guys that are able to beat me sort of one week or the next week but I don’t think there’s a lot of people that can beat me throughout the entire season.
“It’s just about trying to be a little more clinical when I get to those weeks where I have chances to win. Overall, it’s been another really solid year. Stroke average has been great and I’ve played really good golf, really consistent. Hopefully more of the same going into next year and beyond,” he added.
Of chasing down more Race to Dubai ranking titles (with only Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie ahead of him), McIlroy added:
“I’ve still got a little bit left in the tank. I think I’ve still got a good eight to 10 years left in me where I can play at the top, top level. I’d like to think that I’m going to challenge, at least try to get past Seve and then sort of try to get past Monty as well. But it’s certainly a goal of minute for the rest of my career to do something like that. It would mean a lot to me.”
McIlroy, however, failed to find that season-long form in the final tournament. A closing 70 for 10-under-par 278 left the world number two in tied-22nd, a shot behind Shane Lowry – who closed with a 67 for 277 in tied-18th. Tom McKibbin closed out his rookie season on the tour with a 72 for 281 in tied-32nd position.
Højgaard’s spectacular closing 64 ultimately gave him a two-strokes winning margin over the trio of Viktor Hovland, Matt Wallace and Tommy Fleetwood. The Dane, who was three strokes behind 54-hole leader Wallace heading into the final round, had a round of nine birdies and one bogey, his sequence of five straight birdies from the 13th, after dropping his only shot on the 12th, propelling him to the title.
“It means a lot, it’s the sweetest one,” said Højgaard, who made his Ryder Cup debut in Rome in September after receiving a wild card pick from Luke Donald. “So much hard work has been put in over the past couple of years – it feels amazing, this is for family and everything they put in over the years. So much hard work going into this, for it to happen like this is unbelievable.”
Højgaard’s previous tour wins came in the 2021 Italian Open and last year’s Ras al Khaimah Championship, but this Rolex series event brought him to a new level, with the likelihood that he will get to play all four Majors next year.
“I played some really good golf. I have to say this is the best golf I’ve played in a tournament and the strongest field in my three wins. My game feels good, I felt good before going out and to finish it like this feels good.
“This is the sweetest way to finish the year, I can’t believe we finished on such a high note, I’m definitely going to enjoy this,” said Højgaard.
Meronk, meanwhile, can plot a new life on tour juggling both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour after topping the separate mini order of merit.
“It’s been a goal to mine since we found out we are playing for PGA Tour cards. I’m very glad that I’m going to be playing on the PGA Tour. I played some tournaments this year, and gained some experience. I’m looking forward to it.”