Fleetwood philosophical as maiden PGA victory eludes him

Englishman heads for Arnold Palmer Invitational along with Irish trio

 Tommy Fleetwood  walks off the 18th green  after hitting into the water at the last in the Honda Classic     at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Tommy Fleetwood walks off the 18th green after hitting into the water at the last in the Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

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The old idiom about getting back in the saddle could apply for Tommy Fleetwood this week as, after letting a potential breakthrough win on the PGA Tour slip through his fingers at The Honda Classic, the Englishman heads into this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a shot at redemption.

Fleetwood – a five-time winner on the European Tour but without a tournament win yet stateside – suffered the ignominy of putting his 5-wood approach from 238 yards to the 18th green into the water at PGA National and, to his credit, didn’t seek to attach any blame to an idiotic shout [get in the hole] from the galleries as he completed his swing. He ultimately ran up a bogey six to finish two shots adrift of South Korean Sungjae Im.

“It comes down to fine margins,” said Fleetwood of his latest close call in the US, where he was runner-up in the 2018 US Open.

“I think it’s important to make sure you’re positive about it. You have enough people that will critique what you’ve done, so I’m going to do the same. I’m going to go back and look at what I could have done better . . . . at the end of the day, I was really good mentally, hung in there until the end and gave myself a chance at the last.

“But when the margins are small, that’s okay. I don’t feel like I’m getting worse at golf. I’ve just got to keep pushing. Absolutely I want to be a regular winner, but there’s no point in moaning and groaning about it. It didn’t happen. There’s a lot of amazing players on the tour trying to win and it’s not a given. So I’ve just got to keep going and if I keep getting this close, it’ll happen.”

Fleetwood is part of a strong European playing contingent in action at Bay Hill, where world number one Rory McIlroy resumes tournament play after skipping the Honda Classic. McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell make up the trio of Irish players at Arnie’s old stomping ground but Shane Lowry has opted to leave it off his itinerary having experienced nothing but frustration on previous visits.

Lowry missed the cut there on his first visit in 2015 and, after leaving it off his schedule for a couple of years, returned there for 2018 and again last year and proceeded to miss the cut on each occasion.

Having completed an early-season odyssey that took him to Hong Kong and to the Middle East, Lowry – who has now based himself in Florida until he returns back to the European Tour for the DDF Irish Open in late May – finished tied-21st at the Honda and claimed his game overall was “pretty good.”

Top-five

Lowry’s itinerary will see him return to action at The Players Championship in Sawgrass next week and then there’s a week’s break before three-in-a-row, with the WGC-Dell Match Play followed by the Valero Texas Open and then the Masters in a busy stretch of events.

McIlroy heads into the Arnold Palmer Invitational – where Francesco Molinari is the defending champion – on the back of three top-five finishes in his three appearances so far this season. The Northern Irishman was a winner at Bay Hill in 2018.

Of that affinity with Bay Hill, McIlroy – who first played the event in 2015 – recalled: “Arnold would write me all these letters after wins and ‘hoping to see you at Bay Hill next year’ and I could never make it for various reasons and it was nice to finally [do it] and play and get to spend some time with him, have dinner with him. I said that year I would make a real effort to try and play every year. Now that I’m a past champion, it obviously means a little bit more to me again.”

The European Tour remains in the Middle East, with the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha being played at a new venue, the Jose Maria Olazabal-designed Education City Golf Club. Cormac Sharvin and Jonathan Caldwell are joined by amateur Michael Young in the field, with South African Justin Harding defending his title.

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