When it’s over, it’s over fast. The cheering stops and you find yourself waiting for the next big challenge. You think you’re prepared for it, everyone does. Nobody is.
For Matt Fitzpatrick, it feels like it’s only the beginning. But at the same time, it feels like he has been around forever. It is easy to forget how young he is after turning professional in 2014 at jut 19, and continues to brim with stardom.
Heading into Sunday’s final round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the Sheffield native was just two-shots behind leader Lee Westwood and in supreme form following a formidable third round 69.
On the first tee it’s handshakes and best wishes. Fitzpatrick and Sergio Garcia played against each other plenty over the years but this time there was a sense of tension not present before.
“Ladies and gentlemen this is the 11.54 tee-time. From Sheffield, England, Matt Fitzpatrick!”
He stepped up in his all black Under Armour slacks and polo top and whacked an iron into the par-4 first, looking as relaxed as he might for a Sunday morning foursome back in Hallamshire Golf Club.
He is always this way. Always composed. Always focused. Always in the moment.
The 25-year-old is the youngest Englishman to reach five European Tour wins and continued his strong recent form with a T2 finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this weekend.
Rounds of 68-67-69-67 left him just two-shots behind winner and compatriot Westwood, but it was a display which left many in awe of his blistering talents once again.
He possesses an all round game in most departments, hitting a lot of fairways but his putting let him down on a number of occasions, in particular the sixth hole when he missed a facile birdie opportunity. A chance which could have put him within one of the leader.
He might be slender in size, just 11 stone in comparison to someone like Brooks Koepka who weighs in at 14 stone, but no one boasted better all-round stats on the European Tour last year.
While his 2019 season did not feature a victory, four runner-up finishes, as well as an additional five top-10 finishes, earned him a career-best fifth place finish in the Race to Dubai.
His 67 on Sunday contained a number of solid strokes and a couple that were out of the top drawer. It was another reminder of his innate abilities. Birdies on two, three, four and eight left him two-shots behind Westwood at the turn and cruising.
On the back nine, a long-range birdie attempt on 12 rolled past the cup and he was forced to settle for par. On 13, he struck his tee shot into the sand and was lucky to post a difficult par to stay three behind Westwood.
But he kept his composure, didn’t drop a shot, and struck a superb birdie on the last saw him clinch a share of second alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Victor Perez. It was a finish greeted with a serious reception from the fans.
Second in Abu Dhabi means valuable world ranking points to push him closer to the world top-20 for the first time. A place he deserves to be and will be for the next decade.
Prior to this week’s event in the UAE capital, four of his last five tournaments featured stunning performances; from second in Italian Open to top-10s in the HSBC Champions, Nedbank Golf Challenge and DP World Tour Championship.
A significant eight months lies ahead for Fitzpatrick. With it being a crucial Ryder Cup year, early season promise could inspire a strong run of results to help his qualification hopes for Padraig Harrington’s European team in Whistling Straits.
He debuted at Hazeltine in 2016 but failed to make the victorious 2018 side at Le Golf National in Paris. He was, of course, good enough but other players were simply better. That and Thomas Bjorn’s selections for reliable wildcards.
The Englishman has a head full of dreams going into the new season and top of the list is winning a major. He achieved his best finish at a major at the Masters in 2016, finishing T7, but has failed to finish in the top-10 at any of the other three majors. Improvements over the last six months should see him achieve his best finish this year.
It all continues next week in Dubai, another course he has performed admirably over the years, with a T5 finish in 2017, and, if all goes well, should be in contention for victory at Emirates Golf Club.
There is plenty to come from this outstanding player.
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