England’s Tommy Fleetwood returned to winning ways in spectacular fashion as he clinched the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, writes Michael Stoneman
Tommy Fleetwood held off a string of challengers during the final round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship as he clinched his first victory for more than three years.
The Englishman had trailed overnight leader Tyrell Hatton by a shot heading into the final day but shot a steely five-under-par 67 to clinch a one-stroke victory over US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal, as Hatton’s challenge faded with a closing 75.
On a day of tough scoring and gusting winds at Abu Dhabi Golf Club
Read, Fleetwood made the turn in a level-par 36 but his round sparked into life after chipping in for eagle on the par-five 10th hole. Three further birdies, including one on the 18th after a spectacular 265-yard 3-wood from the rough, were enough to give the 26-year-old his second European Tour victory – three years and 150 days after his breakthrough win at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
"I thought maybe the second win would come sooner to be honest," said Fleetwood, who suffered a severe dip in form midway through the 2015 season, finishing in the top 10 just once in the subsequent 14 months. “It's been a massive comeback.
"I had a really hard time from July 2015 to July last year where I really struggled with my game. It's been an awkward curve.”
Fleetwood’s victory caps a promising run of results for the Englishman since last season’s Open Championship, with 10 top-20 finishes in his last 14 starts.
"The only thing left was 'let's get a win' but, you know, you keep knocking on the door and it will come. I didn't really think it would be this week. It just shows a lot can happen in golf.”
And plenty did happen during Sunday’s closing round, with three-time Abu Dhabi winner Martin Kaymer and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat initially battling for the lead. Each saw their challenge fade on the closing stretch and even a final-hole eagle from two-time Major champion Kaymer was not enough to catch Fleetwood.
Former Abu Dhabi winner Larrazábal also put up a strong challenge, with a sublime chip-in on the 14th moving him into a share of the lead, but a bogey on the following hole proved costly as Fleetwood birdied the 16th and 18th to secure the win.
Speaking after the hugely successful 12th edition of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, was quick to praise Fleetwood’s performance.
“We have just witnessed yet another enthralling year of action at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and I would first like to offer congratulations to the well-deserved 2017 champion, Tommy Fleetwood,” he said. “Over the past four days, the world’s best golfers have battled for the Falcon Trophy, and today’s final round was one of the most exciting days we have seen at the Championship with the likes of Martin Kaymer and Dustin Johnson challenging Tommy until the end.”
The European Tour’s ‘Desert Swing’ now moves on to Doha for the Qatar Masters before returning to the UAE for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic from 2-5 February