Dane Thorbjorn Olesen shot into the top-10 of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings after posting four sensational rounds of sub-69 to claim his fifth European Tour title at the Italian Open, while the Race to Dubai welcomed a new leader in the shape of Italy’s Francesco Molinari who took the runner-up spot.
Olesen came into the tournament looking to find some consistent form having only placed in the top-10 once in 10 events and the 28-year-old got the ball rolling right from the off at Gardagolf Country Club with a sublime first round 65.
Rounds of 68, 65 and a magical 64 followed to claim a one-stroke victory over home favourite Molinari. Olesen picks up 1,166,660 Race to Dubai points with his triumph which sees him make significant strides from 110th to sixth in the rankings with a total of 1,285,495 points.
The victory also emphatically books his place in the Race to Dubai’s grand finale which takes place at Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 15-18.
Former Turkish Airlines Open winner Olesen started the final round one shot behind playing partner Lee Slattery but got off to a flying start with a birdie on the first before gaining two more shots on the front nine.
Olesen continued firing on all cylinders down the back the nine and added four more birdies to seal his first victory since 2016 at the second Rolex Series event of the 2018 season.
“To come into this Rolex Series and to do what I’ve done is amazing,” said Olesen. “I had to come from behind and win which I haven’t done in my career so far, so that was very special. It felt great to hole that putt on the last and to get that feeling of holing it when it really matters.
“This is exactly what I needed. Well, it’s always what we need but right now for me it’s great.”
Meanwhile, Molinari’s second place finish, which came hot on the heels of his BMW PGA Championship victory last week, saw him receive 777,770 Race to Dubai points which moves him to the summit of the Race to Dubai rankings.
The Italian climbs above America’s Patrick Reed with a season total of 2,265,746 points.
Englishman Lee Slattery put on a fine performance to finish just two behind Olesen in third place which saw him pick up 438,200 points to rocket up the rankings from 172nd to 31st with 492,899 points.
Ryder Cup vice-captains Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell were also big movers in the rankings after fine displays in Italy. Both men picked up 250,000 points for a tied for fifth place finish which sees England’s Westwood move from 114th to 45th while Northern Irishman McDowell climbs from 188th to 47th.
Eighteen months ago he wanted to pull out of a tournament because he was petrified he wouldn’t physically be able to tee off on the first hole. Now, Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood is flying and targeting becoming the number one golfer in the world.
The affable 26-year-old Englishman has been extremely candid in Dubai this week about the dark days of a year-and-a-half ago. It was the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last May and Fleetwood recalls feeling “embarrassed” at the way he was hitting the ball.
The Southport native had attempted to alter his swing soon after entering the world’s top-50 in June 2015 in his search to be a “world-class golfer”, but his ploy soon backfired and he began tumbling down the rankings.
He was as low as 188th in September 2016. But he went back to former coach Alan Thompson and old caddie Ian Finnis and gradually things started to turn around. He has been on a steady rise ever since and is now 19th, having been inside the top 20 since July, although he is set to rise sharply again after his European Tour crown.
As good a year as it’s been, both on and off the course for Fleetwood – he became a dad to Frankie seven weeks ago and will marry fiancée Clare in a few weeks – he doesn’t want the Race to Dubai champion to define his career.
“My ultimate goal in life is to be the best player in the world,” he said at his champion press conference on Sunday.
“That will always be the same. Whether I achieve it or not is another thing, but I’ll always strive for that.
“I’ve got a lot of experience in me after the last two, three years. I know that you can go down the wrong path very easily and I think I’ve got people around me and myself included that know how to stay on the right path.
“I’ll always have high expectations but we’ll see where we can go. The ultimate goal, and I think everybody in the profession should have that goal, is to try to be number one in the world.”
Having ended the season with the finest achievement of his career in Dubai, Fleetwood credits UAE capital Abu Dhabi as being the catalyst for his fine 2017.
It was there he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the end of January – ending a winless drought of more than three years.
And even though he had clambered back inside the top-100 before beating former Abu Dhabi champion Pablo Larrazabal and reigning US Open champion Dustin Johnson, Fleetwood admitted victory proved he was back.
“I won, but that was more a point where my game was back to where I wanted it because we put a lot of work in,” Fleetwood said of the Abu Dhabi triumph that ended a 1,247-day wait for a tournament victory since triumphing at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in August 2013.
“I had come from the lowest point in my playing career, all the way to where I was right where I wanted to be.
“I hadn’t won in three years. But it was more I had proved I was back where my game should be and I knew that I could win. So I wanted to win again and I was very confident that I could.
“I’m quite a determined person and I have a lot of goals in my career. Abu Dhabi was more, it was a goal to win but it wasn’t like the be-all and end-all. It wasn’t like I had achieved what I wanted to achieve.”
Confidence is soaring and after conquering Europe at Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Earth course, one of the goals for next season is to play on the PGA Tour.
“This year has been a big year in terms of my career. You know, some of the performances, I have put myself on the world stage a bit more,” said Fleetwood, who will surely have September’s Ryder Cup in the back of his mind.
“When we sit down after this year, we’ll make sure that the goals get high and lofty and that I push myself to achieve more.
“I’ll always have 2017 Race to Dubai No. 1 but the big events, they will always be on our minds. I want to win, there’s a lot around majors. I’d love to have a couple by the time I’m done.
“I obviously want to play a bit more over there (the US) next year. I think it is a different style of golf and there is a lot of the best players in the world over there. The majors, the majority of majors are over there. The WGCs are there.
“I think it makes you a better player trying to play over there. People come over to the European Tour and I think it makes them better. It makes you a more rounded player. It’s all part of a learning curve and a stepping stone.”
Keith Pelley had no problem with stars Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson missing the Race to Dubai season-finale – despite the fact world number 10 McIlroy was seen playing golf with friends in the week leading up to the DP World Tour Championship.
McIlroy had earlier announced his decision to withdraw from the final event of the European Tour season in order to recuperate after an injury-plagued year, while Stenson pulled out a week before the event after bruising a rib.
McIlroy, 28, was seen playing with pals at Emirates Golf Club, but European Tour Pelley said there was a huge difference between that and four days of grueling championship golf.
“Rory and I had the dialogue, we’ve had the dialogue about him needing the rest, about taking the rest of the season off,” said Pelley.
“Playing a match with your mates is completely different than playing in a competitive golf tournament. Playing in a golf tournament, getting up, practising, playing four days after you haven’t played, you have to definitely be ready.
“I’m totally comfortable with Rory’s decision that he made some time ago. Henrik looked like he was coming last week after he practiced and the very next day, he was practising again, and he got a twinge in the back.
“I said it to Henrik and I said to Rory, the most important thing for the European Tour and global golf is to have our superstars healthy and playing at the best they possibly can be.
“So I totally respect Rory’s decision. But it is a fundamental difference between hitting balls and playing a fun round with your mates than playing in a competitive tournament.”
And Pelley didn’t feel the absence of two of the top 60 in the Race to Dubai rankings had any detrimental impact on the tournament at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“I think if you look at, (heading into the final day), the number six player in the world was leading and the number five player in the world was second.
“We would love to have Rory here. We would love to have Henrik here. But we have a very strong field that we’re very proud of.”
Pelley also revealed the European Tour is negotiating with local organisers to safeguard the future of the season finale in Dubai.
“We’re having discussions now, again, as we discuss 2019 and 2020 and beyond,” he said.
“This is a terrific golf tournament. This is where our players want to play. We are very fortunate for it to be called the Race to Dubai and to have somebody like DP World, who has been involved for many, many years as the title partner.
“Dubai is absolutely a critical part of our current success and our future plans. We believe that this tournament here at Jumeirah Golf Estates will be here for many years to come.”