Tommy Fleetwood signalled a fierce determination to clinch a first Race to Dubai title with a brilliant second round in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
Olympic champion Justin Rose seized the initiative on Thursday in the battle to be crowned European number one with an opening 66 in Dubai which left him just a shot off the lead held by American Patrick Reed.
Rose trails fellow Englishman Fleetwood by 256,738 points on the money list, but knows a remarkable third consecutive victory would guarantee him the Harry Vardon trophy for the second time.
However, if Rose is third or worse at Jumeirah Golf Estates, Fleetwood can cling on to top spot with a good finish of his own and gave himself a fighting chance with a superb 65 on Friday.
“Today was pressure in a different way,” Fleetwood said after a round containing eight birdies and a solitary bogey. “If I had shot level par or one under today everything is completely out of my hands.
“I’ve kept myself in with a chance of the tournament but it’s only a big round if I keep it going.”
Fleetwood completed his second round just moments before Rose started his own on the same score of six under, with Tyrrell Hatton having set the clubhouse target on nine under after a 63 that was marred only by a bogey on the 18th.
“I don’t know whether Justin will be bothered or not,” Fleetwood said. “He is so strong mentally and he knows what he’s doing. He’s been in a lot of situations like this.
“This is my first time but I’m glad I’ve put my name up there. At least my name is somewhere now, rather than the wrong end of the leaderboard.
“You still have to go out and shoot scores but he’s on amazing form at the moment. I won’t put it past him carrying it on and shooting another one.”
American Patrick Reed overcame a back injury to lead after the first round of the DP World Championship in Dubai as Justin Rose took a massive step closer to a remarkable Race to Dubai triumph.
Reed carded a flawless 65 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to finish seven under par, a shot ahead of Rose and Australia’s Scott Hend, with defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick part of a six-strong group on five under.
Rose was a distant 10th in the money list until claiming more than 2.3million points with back-to-back victories in China and Turkey and came into the week trailing long-time leader Tommy Fleetwood by 256,738.
That means the Olympic champion needs at least a top-five finish to overhaul Fleetwood, whose 73 suffered hugely in comparison with another superb display from playing partner Rose.
“It looks worse and feels worse,” Fleetwood admitted. “He played flawless golf. I don’t know how long he’s going to keep doing this for but it’s doing my head in.
“To do well I have to improve things myself. I can’t go out and play my round and then go out and watch him and hope he doesn’t do very well.”
Fleetwood admitted he was feeling the pressure as he double-bogeyed the first and dropped another shot on the third, but an eagle on the seventh helped him get back to level par before a three-putt bogey on the 17th.
Rose’s only bogey also came via a three-putt on the ninth, but the 37-year-old holed out from a bunker on the 14th for an eagle in a back nine of 31 and admitted he was now the man to catch.
“It’s probably shifted but tomorrow could be a whole other day,” Rose said.
“This was not really on the radar a month ago. That’s the perspective that I have to keep because it’s an opportunity for me. (It would) certainly be easy to start to think about it now as being in my hands, but I think for me it’s still a bonus at this point.
Ryder Cup star Reed might have something to say about that, with the world number 23 intent on making the most of his surprise place in the field.
Reed thought he had not played enough events to retain his European Tour membership, only to be told that the Presidents Cup counted towards the requirement of five.
“I feel like the hard work I did with my coach right after missing the cut in Mexico really paid off,” Reed said. “I felt like the swing was right where it needed to be and I woke up this morning and had this really awful pain in my back, close to my shoulder.
“The warm-up wasn’t how I wanted. I was kind of spraying it and then my caddie just looked at me and reminded me, ‘Hey, you’re a gamer, not a range guy’.
“Any time you can start birdie, birdie it gets you started and I was able to right the ship and make some putts and hit some good shots.”
It has been a seminal year for Tommy Fleetwood as he looks set to end the campaign as Race to Dubai champion and European No1 at the DP World Tour Championship.
The Englishman took the lead in the European Tour standings after winning in Abu Dhabi in January and has remained in pole position for much of the season, with a second place finish at World Golf Championship and victory at the French Open in July.
With Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia still hot on his tail for the Race to Dubai title, the 26-year-old remains relaxed as he goes into the biggest tournament of his career.
“I don’t want to say like a breakout year, because you don’t know what happens after it, but it’s been the biggest year of my career by a long way,” said Fleetwood.
“I think the goal at the start of the year was to win again. I hadn’t won in three years, whatever it was.
“It’s been like a year of sort of felt like I was reassessing for the first six months because I was on a roll and I just kept having brilliant results.”
The Southport native did have a chance to secure the race last weekend at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa but had to settle for 10th place – with Branden Grace sealing victory on home soil.
Still, Fleetwood will be crowned No1 irrespective of his placing if Rose finishes outside the top five and Garcia fails to win.
“It’s very special to get to The Race to Dubai, you know, the final event, and be playing to win The Race to Dubai. Something I’ve never been done before. I’ve never been close, and it’s something that I didn’t expect to be doing this year,” said Fleetwood.
“I mean, whatever happens, I’ve never done this before, and it will have been a brilliant experience no matter what. I obviously clearly want to win. Don’t know how many chances you’re going to get in your career to do it.
“I think it would have to be that my game can stand up with the best players in the world in the biggest tournaments.”
Fleetwood may only have one top 10 finish in four appearances at Jumeirah Golf Estates – a ninth place finish in 2016 being his best to date – but is relishing the prospect of stepping out for the final 72 holes of a memorable season regardless of whether he lifts the coveted title or not.
“It’s actually an amazing opportunity and it’s a massive privilege to be able to actually be playing,” he said.
“I’m turning up tomorrow, final event of the year and I’m playing with Justin Rose trying to win a Race to Dubai. Sergio could win it, as well. Sergio, Justin Rose and then me; that’s pretty cool, that.”