Fleetwood has enjoyed a whirlwind 16 months, rising from 188th in the world to 12th after retaining his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title on Sunday in the UAE capital.
He became European number one at the end of 2017 as he claimed the Race to Dubai crown in November.
And he is now firmly in the reckoning to make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team in Paris in September – he is currently ranked fourth on the European World Points list and if the team was picked today, would comfortably be in the eight automatic picks.
World number 11 McIlroy was in contention in Abu Dhabi, finishing tied third with Matthew Fitzpatrick – another man currently inside the top eight too.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy looked fantastic on his first return following more than three months out with a rib injury, but again suffered Abu Dhabi heartbreak – it was his second third-placed finish, and he has also finished second four times in the capital.
At the moment he would be relying on being selected as one of Bjorn’s four captain’s picks, but McIlroy is pleased with Fleetwood’s meteoric rise, labelling it “incredible”.
“He had a great year last year, won the Race to Dubai, No1 in Europe and then to just keep going. This week, defending champion, to put that round of golf together out there (on Sunday), 65 in those conditions is seriously impressive,” said an impressed McIlroy, 28.
McIlroy’s challenge faded on Sunday in blustery conditions, only managing a -2 under 70, whereas Fleetwood’s fabulous -7 under saw him retain a title that kick-started his revival 12 months ago.
“A -7 under, -6 under back nine, I thought if you shot anything under par, -1 or -2 under on the back nine, that was a good score. For him to do that is seriously impressive. He’s been playing well for a long time now, and he’s the guy to beat in Europe right now.”
And McIlroy feels Fleetwood will be a great addition to Team Europe as they host this year’s competition at Le Golf National in September, with the knowledge that the United States haven’t won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry.
“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,” added McIlroy, who will hope to make his fifth consecutive appearance.
“I think the field that was assembled here this week is very, very strong, having the world No1 here and you had a lot of strong players.
“For Tommy to defend and in such style against such a great field, it bodes well not just for him, but for European golf. It will be a great addition to the Ryder Cup team.”
Tommy Fleetwood stood on the 18th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and when the moment came he lifted the Falcon Trophy above his head and shook it to the pale blue UAE sky.
It’s been a life-changing 12 months for the Englishman and nobody would have predicted him to successfully defend his title in such a scintillating manner.
Five shots down as he stepped on to the 10th hole, it looked like a top-seven position would be as good as it was going to get this time around for the 27-year-old.
But, sport can throw up tricky situations and on a blustery day, leader Ross Fisher would go on to bogey two of the next six holes to drop crucial shots at defining moments.
As his scorecard increased, Fleetwood produced the back nine of his life to hole six birdies and subsequently retain his Abu Dhabi crown by two shots.
While much of the talk this week centered on star names such as World No.1 Dustin Johnson and four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Fleetwood should now be mentioned in the same conversation.
Ranked 12th in the world, the unassuming Race to Dubai winner’s rise cannot be ignored any longer as he proves hard work and some luck can catapult any sports star into a commanding position among the elite.
Fleetwood is the master and the inspiration for so many golfers worldwide after his meteoric rise over the last 16 months.
In September 2016, he was struggling for form and languished around 188th in the world rankings.
At the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year, he was two shots down on the final day and beat Johnson to kick-start a stunning season, which ended with him securing the Race to Dubai title.
Throw in nine top-10 finishes, including victory at the HNA Open de France, and it just goes to show what a win can do for any golfer mentally to boost belief in their game.
Fleetwood has proved time and time again that he is as clinical in those pressure situations as the likes of McIlroy and Johnson – and will be a tour de force for the rest of the season.
Although the duo may boast a more formidable world ranking and trophy cabinet, the Englishman is cementing his status at the top.
But for Fleetwood to become the standard-bearer of British golf, he needs to win a Major – only Justin Rose and Danny Willett have achieved this feat since Nick Faldo – and this means his short game will need improving.
In a Ryder Cup year, the Southport resident will have plenty of opportunities to iron out the weaker areas in his armoury as he bids to wrap up a spot on Thomas Bjorn’s team.
The way he carries himself on and off the course will certainly bode well for Team Europe in Paris – but consistency needs to be a priority if he is to convert his sparkling form on the grandest stages of them all.
His sizzling 65 in Abu Dhabi in tough conditions highlighted his remarkable talents and this should be another indicator to reinstate belief that he can be one of the top players in the world.
The journey rolls on. Next week will see him step out at Emirates Golf Club at the Dubai Desert Classic – alongside defending champion Sergio Garcia and McIlroy. His face deserves to be on as many billboards as those two.
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship transformed the career of Tommy Fleetwood in 2017 but the new world number 12 claims retaining his trophy means more to him as it proves he belongs at golf’s elite level.
The affable Englishman produced a brilliant back nine display, sinking six birdies to surge to the top of the leaderboard and successfully defend his title.
The 27-year-old stormed home in just 30 strokes to complete a closing 65, with his -22 underpar total giving him a two shot victory over compatriot Ross Fisher.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Southport native, who was in danger of sliding into obscurity coming into the 2017 season 12 months ago, hovering just outside the world’s top 100.
But a win at Abu Dhabi Golf Club rebooted his career – Fleetwood had been as low as 188th in the world the previous September – and he finished the year ranked 18th after being crowned Race to Dubai champion at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
And he continued his love affair with the UAE by retaining his Abu Dhabi title yesterday in scintillating fashion – recording an epic round of -7 under par to blow away his competition at the top of the field on a gusty final day.
And despite obtaining a victory that reignited his career a year ago, Fleetwood insisted yesterday’s triumph felt even sweeter.
“I feel a lot more emotional actually than last year,” said Fleetwood, who will rise six places to No12 when the new world rankings are released today.
“I don’t know why. I just really wanted to win this one. I had the year of my life last year. I know everybody has been talking about it, and just backing it up is the next big thing, really. It’s nice to show to yourself that you are still moving forward.
“So to keep it going and hit form early, and to defend, it’s a weird feeling coming to defend a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away. You feel quite possessive over your trophy and you don’t want to give it back.
“I’ve never come to a tournament as defending champion before. So that’s always been in the back of my mind this week. So keeping hold of it for another year is very nice.”
Early on it looked as if world number 31 Fisher was going to reel in his first win in almost four years. The 37-year-old eagled the second and recorded two birdies on the front nine, leading by four strokes at one stage.
While he stormed to the turn in 32, Fleetwood was flailing, five shots adrift.
But he began for home with a birdie on 10, while Fisher did well to salvage a bogey after wrestling with the desert scrub.
It proved to be a crucial momentum swing. Fleetwood holed a 15 footer on 12 to make it a three-way tie for second alongside Rory McIlroy and overnight joint-leader Thomas Pieters, the Belgian’s challenge unravelling following a double bogey on 11.
Fleetwood’s melodic back nine continued with a gain from eight feet on 13 as he had the others dancing to his tune, and he drew level with Fisher by rolling in a 30 footer at 15.
A spectacular 40 footer on the next hole put him in front for the first time since the opening round, and a wayward tee shot on15 saw Fisher drop a shot to fall two behind.
Although he got the shot back on the next, Fleetwood maintained the pressure with a birdie at the last, and Fisher was unable to eagle the 18th to force a play-off.
Fisher said: “Hats off to Tommy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a tournament. Tommy’s gone out there and shot 65 and he’s won it, so all credit to him.”