Despite shooting the lowest score of the week and coming within one stroke of equalling Henrik Stenson’s course record, Matthew Fitzpatrick claimed he felt he didn’t actually play that well at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Saturday.
The bright young English prospect, 23, blazed a trail in the capital city sunshine as he soared up the leaderboard and into contention for the Falcon Trophy with a scorching opening 12 holes, which included nine birdies.
There was a bogey and four pars on the final six holes, but he ended with birdie on 18 to finish on -15 under, tied for fourth with reigning champion Tommy Fleetwood, just two shots off the lead.
That is held for a second night by Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, along with England’s Ross Fisher, who shot -5 and -7 under rounds on moving day.
Fitzpatrick recorded the second best nine holes of his career on the front, but admitted his tee and long game didn’t feel completely right.
“It’s a real funny one because I don’t feel like tee-to-green I played that well,” said the Sheffield native.
“I’m sure people will be sat at home thinking ‘he must have played well’. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of good approaches, but just struggled a little bit off the tee.
“That front nine is up there among my best. It’s actually my second best, I managed 28 a couple years ago at the KLM Open.
“I heard on the putting green this morning DJ (Dustin Johnson) shot -8 under Saturday and apparently it was the easiest -8 under the guys have ever seen, but mine was a little bit of a different story, probably the most difficult.
“At the end of the day, the game is all about scoring, and obviously I’ve scored ridiculously well today. That’s what’s nice. I’m back in the tournament and it’s something at the start of the year that I wanted to do, contend more. It’s always a good start.”
Fitzpatrick is the eighth player to shoot 64 or less in the history of the tournament and was so happy he admitted he was contemplating taking his putter to bed with him last night.
“Maybe take it to bed, I don’t know,” joked Fitzpatrick, who was happy despite missing out on equalling the course record of 62, set by Henrik Stenson on the same day in the inaugural running of the tournament, in 2006.
And the strategy for Sunday?
“Play a better long game,” he said. “If I go out and shoot the same score, I’ll be a happy man. I think it will be tough to beat.”
EurAsia Cup team-mates Pieters and Fisher share the lead in the capital, the big-hitting Belgian adding four front-nine birdies to a flawless 65 on Friday to remain ahead of the chasing pack.
The birdies dried up somewhat on the back nine and eventually Fisher reeled him in with a birdie on the last to lead on -17 under.
McIlroy is third, Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood share fourth as members of Thomas Bjorn’s victorious European side from last week’s contest with Asia fill four of the top five places.
Pieters said patience is key, after failing to grasp a few chances for birdie on the back nine.
“When the conditions are perfect and you see everybody making a bunch of birdies and I was hitting it close, but I just wasn’t making the putts,” said the 25-year-old world number 40.
“My caddie just said, ‘stay patient’, and I finally hit one really close on 16, couldn’t miss that one. I should have birdied 18, but I’m not going to complain.”
Fisher, like Pieters, turned in 32 to keep tabs on the leaders, and caught Pieters at the top when he converted a 20 footer on the 14th.
Pieters went ahead once more on 16, but could only find a greenside bunker in three on the par five last and was unable to match Fisher’s bogey, with Pieters signing for a 67 and Fisher carding a 65.
Fisher is excited to have a chance to add his name to the list of winners Sunday.
The 37-year-old said: “To have a chance to go out there and put my name amongst that illustrious property of players would be great, and have to go out and play as well as I have done the first three days. I’m excited and looking forward to the challenge.”
Know more about Sport360 Application