Brilliant back nine sees Tommy Fleetwood retain Abu Dhabi title

Rory McIlroy finishes in a share of third place after rounding off return to action with a 70

Tommy Fleetwood’s final round 65 gave him victory in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty

Tommy Fleetwood’s final round 65 gave him victory in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty

 

Nobody can accuse Tommy Fleetwood of doing things the easy way. Whereas 12 months ago the Southport man held off the challenge of Dustin Johnson to prevail in Abu Dhabi, this time it was Rory McIlroy who couldn’t keep pace. Attention will fall on McIlroy not achieving the victory which looked highly likely for so long on his return to competitive action but Fleetwood’s brilliance when it mattered most shouldn’t be underestimated. Yet again.

Last year’s Race to Dubai champion secured a third tournament victory since the start of 2017 in a style which epitomised his stunning rise. In blustery winds, Fleetwood produced a Sunday 65 – including an inward half of 30 – to take the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by two at 22 under par from Ross Fisher. McIlroy’s 70 meant a share of third with Matt Fitzpatrick at minus 18. Further back Paul Dunne’s challenge faded with a two over par final round of 74, leaving him in a share of 19th place on 11 under.

The inspired back nine run was key to Fleetwood’s success, with a run of five birdies in seven holes from the 10th proving more than McIlroy could handle. Fleetwood, who has cited putting as a professional weakness, holed out from 25ft and 35ft in successive fashion from the 15th green. Fisher needed an eagle on the last to force a playoff, which proved beyond him.

Fleetwood had spoken in effusive terms about McIlroy and Johnson, whom he partnered over the first two tournament days. Talk about having the last laugh; the perfect defence may catapult Fleetwood into the top 10 in the world rankings. Fleetwood, who has enjoyed marriage and fatherhood over the past year, may question if this fairytale is ever likely to end.

“I feel a lot more emotional than last year,” Fleetwood admitted. “I don’t know why. I just really wanted to win this one.

“I had the year of my life last year. It’s a weird feeling coming to defend a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away. Keeping hold of it for another year is very nice.”

McIlroy’s dream scenario of victory on this, his return to action following an injury absence, wasn’t to transpire. Still, there was sufficient evidence over four days to suggest the Northern Irishman will end that barren run - which stretches back to September 2016 - before the Masters. On Abu Dhabi greens which have always proved a challenge to him, McIlroy was simply unable to convert enough fourth round chances but was among the first to congratulate the 27-year-old Fleetwood.

“It’s incredible,” said McIlroy of Fleetwood’s surge. “To put that round of golf together out there today; 65 in those conditions is seriously impressive and six under on the back nine when he needed to. He’s a great addition to the world of golf, a great addition to the European Tour and will be a great addition to the Ryder Cup team in September.

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with caddie Harry Diamond after his final round 70 in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty
Rory McIlroy shakes hands with caddie Harry Diamond after his final round 70 in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty

“I’m really happy with how I played this week. My game is in really good shape and I saw some really, really positive signs. So I’m looking forward to next week in Dubai and obviously looking forward to the rest of the season.”

McIlroy began the day one shot from the lead but found himself in a four-way tie after making a birdie at the 2nd. In what was to prove a gripping afternoon, it was Fisher who thereafter grabbed the initiative. The former Ryder Cup player - who has legitimate aspirations of returning to that fold - reached the turn in 32 to lead by four. Trouble arrived for Fisher at the 10th, where he was forced into an excellent bogey save. He actually did little wrong thereafter, with Fleetwood pressing on the accelerator at precisely the right time to leave the others trailing. “Hats off to Tommy,” said Fisher. “I don’t feel like I’ve lost a tournament. Tommy’s gone out there and shot 65 and he’s won it.” – Guardian service

Collated final scores and totals in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Abu Dhabi GC, United Arab Emirates (Britain unless stated, Irish in bold, par 72):

266 Tommy Fleetwood 66 68 67 65

268 Ross Fisher 67 67 65 69

270 Rory McIlroy 69 66 65 70, Matthew Fitzpatrick 68 70 63 69

271 Chris Paisley 69 67 66 69, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 67 65 67 72

272 Alexander Levy (Fra) 69 65 70 68

273 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 70 68 70 65

274 Andrew Johnston 68 68 66 72, Dustin Johnson (USA) 72 64 68 70, Fabrizio Zanotti(Par)67 69 68 70, Paul Casey 70 65 69 70, Thomas Detry (Bel) 70 68 64 72

275 Jorge Campillo (Spa) 69 64 72 70

276 Jeunghun Wang (Kor) 71 67 67 71, Branden Grace (Rsa) 72 64 67 73, Tyrrell Hatton 69 70 69 68, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 67 68 69 72

277 Paul Dunne 68 70 65 74, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 69 67 67 74, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 68 72 67 70

278 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70 68 70, Scott Hend (Aus) 71 69 69 69, Justin Rose 71 71 67 69, Ashun Wu (Chn) 71 67 72 68, Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 73 68 68 69

279 Seung-su Han (USA) 73 67 69 70, Lasse Jensen (Den) 70 71 70 68, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 69 68 71 71

280 Thomas Bjorn (Den) 73 69 69 69, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 70 71 70 69

281 Matt Wallace 71 68 72 70, Kristoffer Broberg (Swe) 69 69 70 73, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 70 66 72 73, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 69 70 71 71, Matt Kuchar (USA) 72 70 69 70, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 71 70 70 70, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 72 68 69 72, Sam Brazel (Aus) 67 68 70 76

282 Richie Ramsay 68 70 72 72, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 71 71 69 71, Mikko Ilonen (Fin) 68 74 67 73, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 71 70 70 71, Darren Fichardt (Rsa) 73 67 71 71, Dean Burmester (Rsa) 69 72 67 74, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 72 70 73 67, Adrian Otaegui (Spa) 70 69 73 70

283 Jason Scrivener (Aus) 69 68 71 75, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 71 70 70 72, Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 72 70 72 69, Joost Luiten (Ned) 69 68 72 74, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 71 71 71 70

284 Ricardo Gouveia (Por) 72 70 69 73, Andy Sullivan 70 65 73 76, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 69 73 71 71, Haydn Porteous (Rsa) 72 70 71 71, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 69 73 69 73, Carlos Pigem (Spa) 68 71 72 73, Gary Stal (Fra) 72 69 74 69, Nino Bertasio (Ita) 70 71 69 74

285 Stephen Gallacher 68 72 69 76, Brandon Stone (Rsa) 69 70 70 76, Jordan Smith 72 70 69 74, Gregory Bourdy (Fra) 71 70 72 72, Lee Slattery 69 72 69 75, Alvaro Quiros (Spa) 70 72 71 72

286 Gregory Havret (Fra) 70 71 70 75

288 Hideto Tanihara (Jpn) 66 72 74 76

289 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 72 69 73 75, Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa) 75 67 71 76

292 Scott Vincent (Zim) 69 70 73 80

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