The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship transformed the career of Tommy Fleetwood in 2017 but the new world number 12 claims retaining his trophy means more to him as it proves he belongs at golf’s elite level.
The affable Englishman produced a brilliant back nine display, sinking six birdies to surge to the top of the leaderboard and successfully defend his title.
The 27-year-old stormed home in just 30 strokes to complete a closing 65, with his -22 underpar total giving him a two shot victory over compatriot Ross Fisher.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Southport native, who was in danger of sliding into obscurity coming into the 2017 season 12 months ago, hovering just outside the world’s top 100.
But a win at Abu Dhabi Golf Club rebooted his career – Fleetwood had been as low as 188th in the world the previous September – and he finished the year ranked 18th after being crowned Race to Dubai champion at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
And he continued his love affair with the UAE by retaining his Abu Dhabi title yesterday in scintillating fashion – recording an epic round of -7 under par to blow away his competition at the top of the field on a gusty final day.
And despite obtaining a victory that reignited his career a year ago, Fleetwood insisted yesterday’s triumph felt even sweeter.
“I feel a lot more emotional actually than last year,” said Fleetwood, who will rise six places to No12 when the new world rankings are released today.
“I don’t know why. I just really wanted to win this one. I had the year of my life last year. I know everybody has been talking about it, and just backing it up is the next big thing, really. It’s nice to show to yourself that you are still moving forward.
“So to keep it going and hit form early, and to defend, it’s a weird feeling coming to defend a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away. You feel quite possessive over your trophy and you don’t want to give it back.
“I’ve never come to a tournament as defending champion before. So that’s always been in the back of my mind this week. So keeping hold of it for another year is very nice.”
Early on it looked as if world number 31 Fisher was going to reel in his first win in almost four years. The 37-year-old eagled the second and recorded two birdies on the front nine, leading by four strokes at one stage.
While he stormed to the turn in 32, Fleetwood was flailing, five shots adrift.
But he began for home with a birdie on 10, while Fisher did well to salvage a bogey after wrestling with the desert scrub.
It proved to be a crucial momentum swing. Fleetwood holed a 15 footer on 12 to make it a three-way tie for second alongside Rory McIlroy and overnight joint-leader Thomas Pieters, the Belgian’s challenge unravelling following a double bogey on 11.
Fleetwood’s melodic back nine continued with a gain from eight feet on 13 as he had the others dancing to his tune, and he drew level with Fisher by rolling in a 30 footer at 15.
A spectacular 40 footer on the next hole put him in front for the first time since the opening round, and a wayward tee shot on15 saw Fisher drop a shot to fall two behind.
Although he got the shot back on the next, Fleetwood maintained the pressure with a birdie at the last, and Fisher was unable to eagle the 18th to force a play-off.
Fisher said: “Hats off to Tommy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a tournament. Tommy’s gone out there and shot 65 and he’s won it, so all credit to him.”
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