Whatever happens Sunday, Tommy Fleetwood is pretty content with his life on and off the golf course right now.
The mellow Englishman was all smiles on Saturday as his resurgence at the DP World Tour Championship continued with a superb, successive 65 saw him soar into a share of fourth place at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
He is two shots off leader and nearest rival for the Race to Dubai series victory, Justin Rose. But having described himself as being “absolutely nowhere” in golf 18 months ago, the affable 26-year-old admits he has since done some growing up.
“It’s a massive thing. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever tried to achieve,” Fleetwood said of his drive to win the Race to Dubai.
“I was in contention in the US Open and Mexico (runner-up in WGC-Mexico Championship) but they were like one or two rounds. This has been all year and you come down to the final event.
“A year and a half ago, I was absolutely nowhere in the game and a bit lost. Fast forward to where for me, it’s been amazing to play and to enjoy my golf this year, and then to get to this stage. It’s been an absolute pleasure and privilege trying to compete for the Race to Dubai title.”
After winning a maiden European Tour title at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in 2013, things started to go awry when Fleetwood tried to change his swing, having just entered the top 50 in the world rankings, searching to become “a world-class golfer”.
Instead both his form and love for the game plummeted. He returned to his old coach, Alan Thompson, and old caddie, Ian Finnis, and things gradually improved.
“I’m a little bit more grown up now,” he added.
And on Sunday, he is definitely feeling the love, both from the game and his family.
“I’ve put a lot of work into the golf side of things which I had to do, my golf was nowhere near good enough,” adds the Southport native.
“I needed to do it. It’s not that I wasn’t taking my golf seriously, not at all. I’m just happy on the course, happy off it, and it’s helped.
“To me I have the best life ever. I know that whatever happens tomorrow my baby’s there, my fiancee’s there, mum and dad will be there and everybody’s happy and everybody loves me.
“Win or not I’m doing a great job of making sure my family’s happy, safe and comfortable, and that’s a really lovely feeling.”
And when asked if winning the Race to Dubai would be the highlight of his career, he was very keen to distinguish between career and personal life.
“Over my career, yeah. Nothing closest to the biggest day of my life but in my career, it is,” admitted Fleetwood.
“My baby’s there, I’ve got a wedding coming up. There’s been plenty of bigger life occasions. It will be massive in my career and I’m not going to play it down but you keep things in perspective and the work-life balance. They are intertwined but they’re separate too.”
Fleetwood alluded to dreading playing at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May 2016, possibly at his lowest ebb.
He added: “Besides my career progressing, the biggest thing is where I am from a year-and-a-half ago.
“At Wentworth (BMW PGA Championship) last year I didn’t even want to play because I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to get off the first tee, so the pressure of tomorrow won’t really feel like that. The pressure will be a lot nicer than that.”
Even though there is the inevitable pressure on Sunday – plus the almost unfathomable calculations needed to deduct the ways and means both he and Rose can win the overall series on Sunday, these days there is no dread for Fleetwood.
“You’re never going to avoid it, so I might as well keep looking and accept it,” he said if asked if he has taken out the calculator to deduct what needs to be done.
“I’d like to look and not see him (Rose) but he’s right at the top, but you’re going to have a look.
“I’ll just try and do my best tomorrow. It’d be nice to be coming down tomorrow and be in with a chance of winning the tournament.
“It’s better getting the calculator out though for this type of scenario than to work out how to keep your card like I was doing a few years ago.”
Win the lucrative Race to Dubai crown on Sunday or not, Fleetwood reiterated how much he has enjoyed playing in the tournament this year.
“Above all, whether I win it or not, or whether Justin wins it, one of us will have deserved it,” he said.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to win a Race to Dubai, coming down these last few events, and especially this week now.
“The week could have gone not quite how you wanted it, not being in contention. So last day of the season and I’ve got a chance to win The Race to Dubai, it’s cool.
“If you’re not going to keep going in this situation, you’re never going to do it, if you don’t have the actual mental capacity to tell yourself to keep going when you’re trying to win The Race to Dubai. But I like to think that I have a good attitude and a good character.”
Justin Rose has the chance to win three successive tournaments for the first time in his career on Sunday but the new leader of the DP World Tour Championship isn’t putting any pressure on himself.
He simply described his chance to win the European Tour’s season-ending Race to Dubai tournament as an “opportunity”.
Rose takes a one-shot lead into the final day after posting a bogey-free round of 65 on Saturday, which included seven birdies – four of which came on the last seven holes.
The Englishman has won on his last two European Tour starts – the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open – knowing another victory would see him overtake compatriot Tommy Fleetwood and be crowned Europe’s number one for the second time.
Should Rose finish solo second on Sunday, Fleetwood would have to win to claim the Harry Vardon Trophy, with a host of permutations also in play as long as Rose finishes in the top five.
“You couldn’t have scripted it much better,” said Rose after signing for a round of -7 under.
“Tommy’s last two rounds of golf have been incredible. He’s there should I make any mistake. He’s doing everything he needs to do, I’m doing everything I need to do. So it’s set up for a wonderful final day.
“It’s an opportunity, that’s the way I’m going to look at it. I don’t see much pressure on myself tomorrow. This is going to be a day just to go for it really and play well.
“It’s not going to be the kind of day where, say, 10 years ago when I had a big lead just try to hang on. It’s not going to be that kind of day tomorrow. There’s going to be a lot of good players and it’s going to be a day where you have to play good golf.”
Victory for the 37-year-old Englishman would add to a long list of accolades. He won the European Tour’s Order of Merit in 2007, taking over Ernie Els and holding off a late surge from defending champion Padraig Harrington.
He has since gone on to win the 2013 US Open and even a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. Fleetwood is in a very similar position to Rose a decade ago, having led the Race to Dubai standings for a long period.
And Rose isn’t sure he is the favourite, just because he is 11 years Fleetwood’s senior and has been in this position before.
“There’s two ways to think about it,” he said.
“Tommy’s had the pressure of leading all year. He’s now being chased down. It’s going to feel different for him.
“I’ve played today with a lot of freedom, like I had nothing to lose. Does that feel strange because I’m now leading in to tomorrow? I see it as an opportunity and I think it’s going to take a great round of golf to win this. There’s so many guys in it.”
One of those guys is Rose’s playing partner from Saturday, Jon Rahm, who was also superb in posting an identical 65, despite opening with two fives.
He holed eight birdies in all, including three on the final four holes to take a share of second, one shot behind Rose.
And despite being at the top of the board, Rose says there are too many players on his heels to predict what will happen on Sunday.
“We (Rose and Rahm) had a great time out there,” said Johannesburg-born Rose.
“He’s playing great golf. I think everybody played great golf today. I saw Tommy’s name creep up on the board. It’s brilliant. It’s just so much fun and a ton of guys tomorrow. It’s really condensed.
“A one-shot lead with a pack like that behind you doesn’t mean much. It’s just going to be whoever comes out tomorrow and really plays well.”
Rahm, 23, the newly-crowned European Tour Rookie of the Year, was happy with his near-flawless day.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist. I always find flaws. But to be honest, it was as close to a flawless round as I’m going to play,” said the Spaniard.
“At number one, I had hit a perfect driver; it just went in the bunker. But besides that the rest was absolutely flawless.
“If this doesn’t build momentum, I don’t know what’s going to. My last 27 holes, I’m 13-under par. Take into account the back nine yesterday [Saturday] and the round today. I’m feeling good. Hopefully I can keep doing the same thing tomorrow [Sunday].”
He hasn’t won a European Tour event in three years but David Lipsky hopes his lowest round of the year will put him in contention for a first success since 2014.
Victory has eluded the world number 151 since he beat Graeme Storm to claim the Omega European Masters three Septembers ago, but the American whipped up a storm on Saturday with the second lowest round of the weekend to put him in with a shot of glory.
Plenty more opponents scored superbly after he finished with a stunning eight under par to eventually take him out of a share of the lead, but Lipsky admitted moving day at the DP World Tour Championship had been “special”.
“It was great to put everything together today,” said the 29-year-old, who ended up slipping down into a share of 13th with Sergio Garcia and overnight leader Matt Fitzpatrick.
“I played really well the last round at Nedbank and thought I had something going. I was a little flat Thursday and Friday so it was nice to get it going today.