Over the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai last week, there were two competitions underway. The DP World Tour Championship was yesterday won by 22-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick, who overhauled his fellow-Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton, with a birdie four on the final hole some 15 minutes after Hatton had taken six there – his only bogey of the day – after driving into the water. Thus Fitzpatrick was the man who finished on 271, 17 under par, with Hatton on 272.
It was the Yorkshireman’s second win of the season, which also saw him make his Ryder Cup debut in less than glorious circumstances, and this being the third win of his career means he is now the youngest Englishman to claim three European Tour titles, beating Nick Faldo’s record by a margin of 220 days. He knocked in a nervy four-footer on the 18th to seal the deal, two years to the day since he had earned his tour card. “When I think about that, it’s crazy,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I love playing golf, obviously, but it’s been a long year for me,” he continued. “This win means the world. To win one of these Final Series events is really special, and this one in particular, being the last tournament of the year. Words can’t describe it. It’s not going to sink in for a while. But it’s been a special year and then to end it like this with a win is amazing.”
Elsewhere, there was the Race to Dubai to be decided – who would be European golf’s leading money-winner in 2016? That contest lay between three men: Henrik Stenson, who in July won the Open Championship with arguably the greatest round of golf ever played; Danny Willett, the Masters champion but mostly latterly out of sorts; and Stenson’s fellow-Swede, the distinct outsider but hugely in-form Alex Noren who had won so emphatically at Sun City the previous week.
Stenson’s advantage over Willett was significant but not secure. “I need to have a strong week because you can’t rely on what other guys are going to do,” he said before the off. “I don’t need to win here [to win the Race to Dubai] but that is my mindset coming in. It was pretty sweet to be here as Europe’s No. 1 in 2013 and I don’t think it would be any less sweet to be here as Europe’s No. 1 in 2016.”
And so it proved to pass. Willett’s chances of overtaking Stenson vanished on Saturday afternoon. Tied on three under par after two rounds, they both stumbled out in 38. Then Willett came home in two over; Stenson in four under. Danny was done. Henrik set off like an express train on Sunday, with five birdies in the opening seven holes, and a closing 65 earned him the $1.25 million bonus.
The 2015 winner of the Race to Dubai, Rory McIlroy, had seemed like the man to back to win the tournament if you believed in horses for courses. He’d never finished worse than 11th in seven starts over this one and was a cumulative 108 under par. So it was a shock when he opened with a 75, the first time he’d shot over-par around there. That left him in the first group out on Friday morning (this tournament goes to a weekend-format playing order with effect from the second round) and a 68 was more like what one might expect from the world No. 2 – behind Jason Day – even if it was never going to propel him to victory. He played the final round with Stenson and matched his 65 to match his total of 276. They finished tied ninth. You can bet they’ll be in contention together a lot in 2017.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen