Abu Dhabi: On a day when most of the golfers were blown away by the wind, Tommy Fleetwood of England weathered the gust and stood firm to dish out a brilliant performance to defend his Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship title by two shots at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Sunday.
Fleetwood, who became the Race to Dubai champion back in November, got the better of compatriot Ross Fisher after a brilliant back-nine of 30 to finish on 22-under par for the tournament.
Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick came home in a tie for third after finishing on 18-under.
With the wind picking up pace, by the time the lead pack had started their round, the leader board had swelled with a staggering number of bogeys and double bogeys.
However, overnight joint leader Fisher, starting tied on 17-under with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, showed his control despite the breeze with an eagle on the par five second hole to take a one-stroke lead over Pieters, who managed a birdie on the same hole to stay close.
McIlroy, who started on 16-under, also managed to make grounds by then with two birdies in the first four holes and caught up with Pieters on 18-under.
Another birdie on the fourth and Fisher was cruising ahead with a two-shot lead on 20 – under and later finished the first nine holes with another birdie on the seventh for a good three shot lead going into the turn.
Pieters found the bunker on the fifth and dropped a shot allowing McIlroy to take charge of the second spot for a while. The Ryder Cup star Pieters then slipped further with another bogey on the sixth but made up for that with a birdie on the eighth for a score of 36 at the end of nine holes.
Northern Irishman McIloy also fell back after he ended up with his second bogey of the event on the par 4 sixth hole. But a birdie on the eighth helped McIlroy to bounce back and be on 18-under by the turn.
While all this was happening, reigning champion Fleetwood and compatriot Fitzpatrick, both starting the day on joint fourth tied at 15-under, finished his first nine holes with scores of 35 each to be on 16-under.
Fleetwood, who had two birdies and bogey in his front nine, then leapfrogged into contention with three birdies on the four holes of the back nine to go 19-under – one shot adrift of the leader Fisher, who dropped a shot on the par 5 10th hole.
The Belgian then stormed into lead with two back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th to go 21-under with two holes remaining. The birdie on the par 4 16th was a stunning 35-foot putt and Fleetwood was fist pumping amid the applause of the crowd.
With McIlroy having not made any further ground and going on par till the first seven holes and then sealing his chances with a bogey on the 17th, Fleetwood was clearly in the driver’s seat. It became all the more certain that he would go on to retain the title with Fisher falling behind by a shot with a bogey on the 15th. Fisher remained on Fleetwood’s tail with a birdie on the 16th.
The Englishman then needed two more birdies in the remaining two holes to force the contest into the playoff after Fleetwood sunk another birdie on the final hole to go 22-under. That didn’t happen and the Falcon Trophy landed in the hands of Fleetwood yet again.