ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Tommy Fleetwood has achieved a lot of firsts in his short career. He achieved another one in the Middle East.
He successfully defended a championship.
Fleetwood won the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second consecutive year thanks to a brilliant final-round back nine. The Englishman, who celebrated his 27th birthday three days prior, finished two shots ahead of Ross Fisher, four ahead of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Fleetwood began the final round two shots behind Fisher and Thomas Pieters. He was five behind Fisher after nine holes.
He came home in 30 strokes to win his fourth European tournament. Six birdies on the back nine in windy conditions gave Fleetwood a closing 7-under 65 for a 22-under 266 total.
“Without sort of going over tournaments in my head or rounds of golf, I think that back nine will definitely be at the top of the list,” Fleetwood said. “It’s funny, because when you’re playing, you’re sort of so in the moment you’re not thinking about how well you’re playing or what your score is. I wouldn’t have known I shot 30 on the back nine.
“I’ve never come to a tournament as defending champion. It’s a really strange feeling because you feel quite possessive over your trophy.”
The affable Englishman arrived in Abu Dhabi last year ranked 100th in the world and defeated Dustin Johnson down the stretch. He won the French Open in the summer and closed out the season by beating Justin Rose to the European No. 1 title. He arrived in Abu Dhabi at No. 18 in the Official World Golf Ranking and will get close to the top 10 with this win.
“I had had the year of my life by a long, long way,” he said. “Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve talked about, sort of that month off was to make sure that we kept progressing, kept improving. To sort of validate your position as Race to Dubai Champion or Player of the Year so early on is really sort of nice and satisfying.”
If Fleetwood was looking for validation, he got it from McIlory, with whom he played the first two rounds.
“Six under back nine – I thought if you shot anything under par, one or two-under on the back nine, that was a good score,” McIlroy said. “For him to do that is seriously impressive.
“He’s the guy to beat in Europe right now.” Gwk