There were several permutations involved with the Race to Dubai at the start of the week, but Henrik Stenson ensured it was a straightforward conclusion, shooting a superb seven-under par 65 that helped him stay ahead of all his rivals and become European No. 1 for the second time.
The 40-year-old Swede, a Dubai resident for nearly a decade before moving to Florida, achieved the best-case scenario – he beat his three rivals who could have denied him the title by finishing tied ninth at 12-under par.
No. 2 Danny Willett was way behind, tied 50th at one-under par, while No. 3 Alex Noren could do no better than tied 23rd place at eightunder par. Rory McIlroy, who needed to win the tournament to have a chance, finished alongside Stenson.
The reigning Open champion said: “I’m very pleased to get my name on this trophy once again. It’s been a great year, the best year of my career. I’ve always thought it was going to be hard to top 2013, but I think I’ve done that this year.
“Maybe not to the level of golf over six months, but certainly with the highlights of winning The Open, the silver in Olympics and The Race to Dubai again. So it’s been a great year and it feels lovely to finish in this way.”
Stenson was also delighted with the way he ended his season – a 65 that contained eight birdies.
“Yeah, if you’re going to be Europe’s No. 1, you don’t want to finish with a 75, even if you can afford it,” quipped Stenson. “It was nice to play some good golf finally and to shoot a good number on a Sunday. That never hurts.
“It was a solid round of golf today, and just sneaked me into the top-10. Top-10s are always fine.”
Even though he was looking forward to a long family holiday, Stenson insisted he was not going to sit on his laurels.
“Golf is a game where you’re never finished. You can always keep improving. I’m no different. Given the competition that comes up every year, it gets harder every time. You’ve always got to keep on trying to become a better player and keep on moving forward. Otherwise you’re going to get run over and run past,” he added.
“There are areas I can improve for sure, but at the same time, I know that if I get my game in good shape and if every department is working, then I know I’ve got enough game to compete with the best and to beat the best.
“I hit some lovely wedge shots today, but that’s certainly one area where I feel like I can improve I think between 90 and 120 yards, there’s definitely room for improvement there.”
Having won the Race to Dubai title for a second time, to go with the two DP World Championships, Stenson revealed he had a special plan for the stunning trophies.
“I’m very pleased because I’ve got two titles. I have my home in Sweden and I have my home in America, so I can spread it out and make it look good in both places,” he added.
Exactly two years ago, Matthew Fitzpatrick was at the PGA Catalunya course in Spain, battling through the sixth and final round of the Qualifying School to secure his card on the European Tour.
In one of the most meteoric rises witnessed in the game, the 22-year-old on Sunday proved what a special talent he is by capturing the biggest title on the Tour – the DP World Tour Championship.
In between, he also qualified to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup and played in majors. It’s been a whirlwind for Fitzpatrick.
At the Earth course on Sunday, the Englishman held off another young compatriot, 25-year-old Tyrrell Hatton, after the two were involved in a dramatic finish.
Both Fitzpatrick and Hatton started the day one shot behind overnight leader Victor Dubuisson, and both looked solid as the others fell by the wayside.
But things started to become more interesting as they headed towards the closing stretch.
On the par-4 15th hole, Fitzpatrick pulled his tee shot into the trees and it looked so bad that he decided to play a provisional ball. But the original ball somehow came back in play after hitting a tree and Fitzpatrick managed to make a crucial par.
On the par-3 17th, Hatton’s tee shot got plugged in the bunker slope on the back wall. A bogey would have been a good result from there. He hacked the ball into the bunker, and then holed out his third shot to stay one ahead.
But on the 18th, his tee shot ran into the stream that bifurcates the fairway. From there, he could only make a bogey, while Fitzpatrick hit his second shot into the greenside bunker, from where he splashed out to four feet and made the birdie putt.
Fitzpatrick closed with a 67 for a 17-under par total, while Hatton’s 68 was good only for runner-up place at 16-under par 272.
“It’s a great way to end the season. This is my best result of my career. There isn’t anything better than that,” said Fitzpatrick, who broke the record of Nick Faldo in becoming the youngest Englishman to win three times on the European Tour.
“It’s two years to the day I got my card at the qualifying school. When you think about it, it’s crazy. It’s all happened so fast.
“There’s always times when I’ve just got to sit back and realise how far I’ve come. And before winning Nordea this year, I had won a Tour event, I had played in the Masters and got in top-50 in the world, and I was 21.
“There are not too many people that do that. And obviously to get my third win at 22, yeah, it is a very fast rise. Obviously it’s not always going to be the case. You’ve just got to take the highs while you can and just keep working hard when it’s not going your way.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick: He's 22, looks like he's in 5th grade, and is better at golf than you pic.twitter.com/8kgtunJ3aS— Golf Swagger (@mygogi) November 20, 2016
Hatton was obviously disappointed, but his consolation came in the form of finishing one place better than Rory McIlroy – fourth in the Race to Dubai.
The Marlow-based youngster, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship earlier this year, said: “Obviously, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s been a great week and for me it’s been the best year of my life.
“So, I can’t get too downbeat, but these things happen. You know, it is what it is and I’m happy with how the week went. I’m sure hopefully in the future, I’ll take my next chance.”
South African Charl Schwartzel (67) was third two shots further behind at 274, while Dubuisson (72) was among those tied fourth at 275. That group included Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (68), Italian Francesco Molinari (70), Dane Soren Kjeldsen (68) and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts (71).
Every now and then, a youngster comes along with such precocious talent; he has the potential of single-handedly reinvigorating the sport.
These may still be early days to put Matthew Fitzpatrick in that bracket, but his DP World Tour Championship win on Sunday proves yet again that the 22-year-old from Sheffield is special. In just two short years, his career graph has zoomed to dizzy heights.
From a player who was depending on sponsor’s exemptions to get into tournaments despite clinching his Tour card through the Qualifying School in 2014, Fitzpatrick won an event and broke into the top-50 of the world rankings in his first year as a professional, and then secured a Ryder Cup berth through automatic qualification in his second.
And now, he has won the biggest tournament on the European Tour, playing against a select field of top-60 players. No…not even Rory McIlroy had such an impressive start to his career.
The way the Earth course has played over the years, and the kind of roll of honour it has – Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson, Alvaro Quiros, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson – the long-hitters have clearly got a distinct advantage over the field.
🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🏆🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼 pic.twitter.com/mcOAqsMe8E— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 20, 2016
Fitzpatrick hardly qualifies in the category of long hitters. That’s what everyone thought. The effects of spending the last three months working hard in the gym is clearly showing as he averaged 298.4 yards off the tee. And he continues to hit it straight.
He was third in the field in fairways hit, and has always been very solid with the putter. Blessed with zen-like composure on the golf course, Fitzpatrick looks like the complete package. Things will keep getting interesting from here on.
Fitzpatrick got a taste of it when he was making that four-feet putt for birdie and victory on the 18th hole. Despite his calm, the world No51 admitted he was “shaking and most nervous ever” in making that putt. The stakes are only going get higher from now on.
With players like Fitzpatrick, and let’s not forget the runner-up Tyrrell Hatton, who is just 25 and having a career year with wins and solid major performances, European golf is in a good place.
While established stars like Henrik Stenson and McIlroy continue to earn plaudits, these youngsters have won events like the DP World Tour Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The other man in the limelight on Sunday was the Race to Dubai winner Stenson.
It was his second European No1 crown, and this will clearly be more pleasing to him. In 2013, towards the second half, the Swede was in awesome form. Everything he touched, turned into gold. He completed a historic double-double – winning the Tour Championship and the No1 honour on both sides of the Atlantic.
And while that season may have brought in a lot more money, just the fact that he became the first Scandinavian star to win a major this year, makes 2016 an unforgettable season. Somebody asked Stenson if he could make 2017 even better?
There are various ways of doing it. Obviously, a major win, or two, is a sure-shot way of making a better year, but the greatest driving force for him would be the world No1 ranking.
Denied once in 2014 when Adam Scott won the Colonial (even a second place for the Aussie would have made Stenson the world No1), that remains the last bastion for Stenson to ensure that his name is remembered as one of the greatest golfers of all time.