Fleetwood beats McIlroy + Fisher to title in tense climax

By Rajive Singh

ABU DHABI 22 January: Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood shot a stunning 7-under par 65 on the final day to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. His overall score of 22-under par saw him lift the Falcon Trophy, two shots clear of his compatriot, Ross Fisher.

The 27-year-old delivered when it mattered most on The National Course, clawing his way back into contention by posting a back nine which included six birdies – one on the 18th – to secure a winner’s purse of US$ 500,000.

Fleetwood, who completed his final nine holes in 30 shots, sealed the title with a magnificent 40-yard chip shot onto the 18th green, before calmly holing from four feet for a closing birdie and successful title defence.

“I just really wanted to win this one. I know everybody has been talking about it, and just backing it up is the next big thing, really. So to keep it going and defend, it’s a weird feeling coming back to try and retain a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away. So keeping a hold of it for another year is very nice,” said Fleetwood, whose affection for Abu Dhabi is clear for all to see.

Having now started 2018 off with victory at the Championship as he did the previous year, the importance of what he’d achieved began to dawn on Fleetwood: “I feel a lot more emotional, actually, than last year. I had the year of my life last year.”

The Englishman, reunited with the Falcon Trophy in the presentation ceremony on the 18th green, went on to explain his thought process whilst standing ahead of his defining third shot on the 18th.

Fleetwood explained: “Then the 18th, I mean the up-and-down was one of the best up-and-downs I ever made. So happy days.”

On the morning of the final day the leaderboard was incredibly tight, with 19 players at 11-under or better, making Fleetwood’s victory even more remarkable. With plenty of world-class golf being played, the iconic Falcon Trophy remained up for grabs late into the afternoon as a pack from the UK fought it out down the closing holes.

The much-fancied McIlroy displayed huge promise despite his recent 100-day break from the game, but he fell just short despite a birdie finish, ending up in third place with an overall 18-under par:

“I’m really happy with how I played. It could have been a little bit better today but overall this gives me confidence going into not only next week but the few months ahead, as well. My game is in really good shape and I saw some really, really positive signs,” said the 28-year-old.

He continued: “I felt like I got a lot out of Abu Dhabi, and yeah it felt great to get another tournament under my belt. It’s a great start to the year. I have no complaints. My body held up really well. My game was probably better than I expected it to be. So I’m really happy with the week.”

Fisher, who started atop the leaderboard, seemed determined to get his hands on the Falcon Trophy, as he opened up with an eagle on the second hole, followed up by two birdies in an outward nine of 32 (-4). He would go on to shoot a three-under par round of 69 after falling away towards the latter stages of his round, perhaps succumbing to the pressure of not having won a European Tour title since 2014.

“It was always going to be tricky. I think I might have been a couple ahead maybe, so I figured, right, I need to knuckle down and play a good, solid back nine, and unfortunately wasn’t quite solid enough,” said the 37-year-old.

Fisher added: “So 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 Tommy.”