Tommy Fleetwood Secures Impressive Abu Dhabi Victory
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
IT HAS been a long time coming, but Tommy Fleetwood has got the message - you get out of this game what you put into it.
One of the most naturally-gifted players on the European Tour, the man from Southport has failed to live up to expectations. He should have been a shoo-in for last year's Ryder Cup team and he should comfortably be nestled in the world's top 50, giving him automatic entry to all four majors and golf's world championship events.
He was left with a stark choice - make a comfortable living from the game or put the work in and become one of the sport's superstars. Fleetwood decided that he wanted the latter option and has spent the winter working on his game and his fitness, and he enjoyed immediate results with a stunning victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC championship, holding off US Open champion Dustin Johnson to claim his second European Tour title. It is surely the second of many victory for the likable Englishman.
And he did it the hard way, making a birdie at the par-five closing hole for a round of 67 and a winning total of 17 under par. That was beyond the reach of Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal, who also birdied the last for a round of 68 to finish one shot short, and Johnson, whose closing eagle was spectacular but not good enough to catch Fleetwood.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the three-time champion who had set the pace for much of the final round, dropped two shots in four holes on the back nine but also finished with an eagle in a round of 69 to share fourth place on 15 under par alongside Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (68) and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat (69).
After a level par front nine, Fleetwood’s challenge gained momentum when he chipped in for an eagle at the 10th hole and followed it with birdies on the 11th, 16th and 18th holes. That final birdie earned the 26 year old his first win since his maiden European Tour title at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. It also moves him to the top of the Race to Dubai rankings after a top three finish in the UBS Hong Kong Open in December..
Fleetwood was thrilled, but admitted that he had expected to add to his first success earlier. “I thought maybe my second win would come sooner to be honest. It’s been a massive comeback. On 18 I got a good break. It took me a few drops to get the perfect spot but I just had a go at it. You've got to take those chances if you want to win. To be honest, that was easier than the four foot putt to win in the end.
“I had a really hard time from July 2015 to July last year where I really struggled with my game. It's been an awkward curve. The only thing left was let's get a win, but I kept thinking you keep knocking on the door, it would come. I didn't really think it would be this week. Just shows a lot can happen in golf.”
Johnson did well to contend after opening the week with a par 72. He admitted that he had been suffering from jetlag at the start of the week. “It was a pretty good week. Obviously I got off to a rough start the first day. I didn't play very well. I wasn't feeling that great the first day. But then obviously I came back and played well Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“I'm happy with the golf game. It's going to keep getting better. 'm happy with the way I played and the way I finished. I made a really bad bogey there on the par three 15th but other than that, it was a pretty solid day. I didn't really make any putts until the last hole."
Despite finishing joint second, Larrazabal struggled to hide his disappointment. “I didn’t play my best today but I tried my best and never gave up. I holed a few big putts and chipped in which was great but four bogeys on Sunday afternoon is not good enough and that was what killed me. I had so much fun out there though and I am proud of the way that I kept fighting today even though I didn’t play my best stuff. It’s a great start to the season and I want to keep working hard to keep improving and give myself more chances to win big tournaments like this one.”
Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson finished in a tie for eighth place.
Meanwhile in America, another week, another 59 and an unexpected winner as Hudson Swafford held himself together and produced a superb back nine to win the CareerBuilder Challenge by a stroke from Adam Hadwin, who joined the 59 club on Saturday.
He was tied for the lead after birdies at the seventh and ninth holes, but then birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th at PGA West - a remarkable feat when you consider that course designed Pete Dye reckons that the last four holes are the toughest he has ever built. And he has built some very difficult holes.
Swafford birdied the 15th when he struck an eight iron to 10 feet and holed the putt, reached the par-five 16th in two and then two-putted and struck a glorious eight iron to within two feet of the 17th hole for a tap-in birdie two. The field averaged nearly 16 shots for the final four holes -Swafford negotiated them in 13.
It made up for his finish to the third round, when he double-bogeyed the 16th after hitting his second shot into the deep bunker left of the green, then bogeyed 17 after nearly hitting his tee shot in the water.
“Today, I stepped up there and hit some really good shots on those two holes,” Swafford said. “I knew the bad stuff on those two holes was gone. I had already seen it, it had already happened and I just visualized really good shots.”
“If not wining doesn’t bother you, that all your friends have won around you, then you probably need to look for another job. It wasn’t holding me back or anything, but it creates a little fire. Playing with these guys day-in, day-out, it motivates you.”
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