Imperious Tommy Fleetwood Continues Astonishing Season
TOMMY FLEETWOOD'S astonishing season continued when he shot a final round of 66 to win the HNA Open de France by a shot from America's Peter Uihlein at the brutal Le Golf National near Paris.
The victory - his second of the year - takes him back to the top of the Race to Dubai comes a couple of weeks after he finished joint fourth in the US Open at Erin Hills. Fleetwood played superbly to claim the second tournament in the European Tour's prestigious Rolex Series and woke up this morning to find himself in the top 15 in the world rankings.
He won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in 2013 and it seemed he had the world at his feet, but he lost his way over the following couple of years. Last year he found himself in contention on several occasions but was unable to finish the job. However, his victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January transformed him and now he looks capable of winning every time he steps out on the course and will fancy his chances of winning The Open at Royal Birkdale, near where he grew up.
Fleetwood began the final round one behind Uihlein and Alexander Bjork but a couple of early birdies took him into a lead that he never relinquished. His 66 left him on 12 under par, one ahead of the American. He came within inches of a hole in one at the par three second, then birdied the third, ninth, 13th and 14th holes to pull clear of the field.
Uihlein dropped shots early on but battled back superbly to record a closing round of 68. After his victory at Gleneagles in 2013, Fleetwood targeted making Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup team, but he failed to make it - he is now a certainty to be playing for Thomas Bjorn's team at the same course next year.
Runner-up Uihlein just missed out on his second European Tour title, but he has the consolation of claiming one of the three qualifying spots on offer for The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Sweden’s Bjork (71) and France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera (66), the leading home player, secured the other two places, finishing on eight under par and in a share of third position alongside Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen (65).
Fleetwood's World Ranking ????— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 3, 2017
Sept 2016: 188th
July 2017: 15th pic.twitter.com/YdB3BNtjWC
Spain’s Jon Rahm finished tied tenth in his debut European Tour appearance on European soil, closing with a round of 69 for a five under par total – the same mark as former World Number One Lee Westwood (70) and Alex Noren (70), the winner of the inaugural Rolex Series event, the BMW PGA Championship.
Fleetwood was thrilled. “Today, it's a day that I'll never forget; the way I felt coming down the stretch, the holes and the shots you have to hit. And yeah, winning, it's the best feeling by far in golf, and to do it on this golf course in this event, a Rolex Series event, you know, massive, massive bonuses, I guess," he said. “Saturday I had to use different parts of my game. I know everybody talks about my ball-striking when it's good, but I felt like Saturday was equally impressive, just in a different way. I had to use my short game a lot, and I had to stay patient enough to stay in the tournament when I wasn't playing well.
“I think the way I started hitting it early on, it was clear that my swing was with me. I felt good. The only problems that I could have was that if I got in my own way; if I started thinking negatively; if I started backing away; if I started worrying about what was going on around me. As long as I trusted myself and as long as I concentrated on where I wanted to hit it, my start lines, my finish lines, just like we've talked about all week, I felt that was the only thing to do.
“The better I played and sort of the further the round got on, it's always difficult to keep your excitement down because you're in with a chance and it was looking good with a four-shot lead and four to play. But like I say, those last few holes make you hit the shots. You can't back out. Either hit good shots or, yeah, you're in trouble.”
Uihlein was pleased with his return to form. “I didn't really look much at the board but when I saw he [Fleetwood] posted about 12, I think I was nine under at that point on 11," he said. "I just wanted to try and at least make him earn it. That's all I was trying to do was just put a little pressure on him. I didn't want him to feel like he could bogey a couple holes and still be okay.
“The only thing I probably would try and redo is maybe be a little bit more aggressive on 15, 16, but other than that, it was a good shot on 17. Just a bad tee shot on 18, so I didn't give myself much of a chance. Other than that it was a good week.
“It's a good event to finish runner-up, and yeah, it gets me into The Open and it moves me up the Race to Dubai rankings a little bit. Any time you finish second in a golf tournament, it's always a good week.”
KYLE STANLEY qualified for The Open with a dramatic victory at the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac. He beat Charles Howell III on the first extra hole to book his place at Birkdale. Howell, Martin Laird and Sunghoon Kang also earned places in the field for The Open.
Stanley defeated Howell III after both players had finished tied for first place on seven-under-par to win his second PGA TOUR event following success in the Phoenix Open in 2012. The pair matched each other during the final round after both players shot final rounds of 66. It was agony for Howell, who was looking for his first victory in 10 years.
Stanley had three birdies before the turn and picked up another two shots on the inward stretch and looked to be heading towards victory. But Howell had other ideas, with an eagle at the 14th and three birdies. He will now be back at The Open for the first time in five years.
Laird carded a three-under-par 67 to finish tied for third place with Rickie Fowler, who is already exempt for The Open, on five-under-par for the championship. The Scotsman made four birdies.
Eight players found themselves in contention for the final place at Birkdale. It went to Kang, of South Korea, due to his world ranking. Kang appeared to be cruising after an excellent front nine, but two bogeys and a double-bogey on the back nine left him hanging on by a thread.
Overnight leader David Lingmerth needed a birdie at the last to pip Kang, but he failed to do so.
Stanley said he is delighted to be playing at Birkdale. “It’s very exciting," he said. "The Open is my favourite major. I feel like links golf is a lot of fun. You have to be creative and being in the field, it’s really neat. This will be my fourth Open, it’s a little bit of a different style of golf but a lot of fun. I enjoy links golf.”
Howell was disappointed not to win, having blown his opportunity to do so for the first time since 2007, but admitted that making it to Birkdale was some consolation. “I am actually thrilled to be in The Open," he said. "It was a goal of mine to try and sneak in there. It was a worry trying to fill in through the world ranking but of course there was one way to take care of that – by finishing top four this week – so yeah it’s the silver lining. I would have loved to have won the tournament but I’m thrilled to be going back to Birkdale.
“I remember there’s a lot of rough around there and you better drive it straight. But I remember the shots Harrington hit coming down the stretch. It was a wonderful Open there the last time and I know it will be again this time. I love The Open – it’s a phenomenal golf tournament and I’m thrilled to be there.”
And for Laird, it is a dream come true. “The Open was the tournament growing up that I used to go and watch and dreamt of playing in. I’ve been lucky to play in a few and to make this one is special and I’ll enjoy going back over there. I have never played Royal Birkdale. I’m sure it’s a great course but I’ve never been over there so it will be fun to get over and learn the course. I’ve heard great things about Birkdale. I don’t know much about it but it will be fun to go there and learn the course. The Open is my favourite golf tournament of the year.”
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