Finland’s Mikko Korhonen moved a step closer to a debut appearance at the European Tour’s season ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai after cruising to a maiden European Tour title at the inaugural Shot Clock Masters at Diamond Country Club in Austria.
The European Tour broke new ground by introducing a shot clock for the first time where players received a one-stroke penalty for going over the allotted time limit on each shot, with only four players receiving penalties over the course of the week.
Korhonen had no such problems as he came into the final round with a five-stroke lead over South Africa’s Justin Walters.
The 37-year-old never looked back as he signed for three-under-par 69 to finish 16 under par for the tournament and six clear of Scotland’s Connor Syme as he sealed his first title at the 146th attempt.
The former Challenge Tour player picks up 195,830 Race to Dubai points and moves up to 35th from 65th in the Race to Dubai rankings with a total of 452,309 points.
“At the European Tour we are always looking for innovative ways to grow the game of golf to a bigger audience,” said Nick Tarratt, director European Tour International, Dubai.
“The Shot Clock Masters was certainly a success with players and fans enjoying the quicker format which did not detract from the quality of the golf.
“We send our congratulations to Mikko and wish him all the best for the remainder of the season as he looks to book his DP World Tour Championship debut at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.”
Korhonen, whose victory sees him climb to a career-best 110th in the official world golf rankings, had his lead cut to three in the early stages and had to contend with two weather delays at Diamond Country Club.
However, he kept his composure to card five birdies and blow away the rest of the field as he romped to victory in style.
“It feels great to get my first win,” he said after his victory.
“It’s been a long wait so it feels so good. I thought I might not have ever got to this position. I’ve been up there a couple of times and couldn’t get it done. I’m so happy and relieved to have finally done it. It’s not easy to win, especially not the first win. I have no words, it’s so good.”
Meanwhile, Syme holed a monster putt on the last to take second place on his own which sees him collect 130,550 Race to Dubai points and jump from 206th to 101st in the Race to Dubai rankings as he edges closer to the top 60 with a season tally of 164,666 points.
The tournament opened the door for some of the fringe players in the rankings to improve their position with Australian Adam Bland moving up to 79th with a tied for 12th place finish while Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez joined Bland in 12th and now sits 82nd.
The top three in the Race to Dubai rankings remains the same. Italian Francesco Molinari leads the way while American Patrick Reed sits just behind in second. Northern Ireland’s three-time Race to Dubai champion Rory McIlroy completes the top three.
The DP World Tour Championship takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 15-18.
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.”