The concluding event on the 2017 European Tour season, the DP World Tour Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estate in Dubai, was about two things: who would win the tournament and who would win the Race to Dubai (the Order of Merit in old money). Any of the 60 golfers in the field were obviously capable of doing the former but the latter essentially seemed to come down to a contest between two Englishmen: Justin Rose – 37 years old, the 2013 US Open champion, the reigning Olympic champion and multiple Ryder Cup player – and Tommy Fleetwood, aged 26 and coming to the end of the season of his life. Fleetwood held the advantage. He would win the Race to Dubai whatever he did so long as Rose didn’t finish in the top-five. Rose did finish in the top-five; in a four-way tie for fourth. Fleetwood finished in a tie for 21st but that was just good enough for him. “It’s the biggest day of my career, for sure,” he said. “It’s been an amazing year.” One which he will never forget.
Rose was also trying to make it wins from three successive starts, having prevailed in his past outings in China and Turkey. His was a late-charging run to become Europe’s No. 1 golfer for the year, a feat he had achieved a decade ago. On day one, Fleetwood began with a double-bogey and carded a 73. Rose had a 66. On Friday, Fleetwood manfully did what he had to do – hugely improve. A seven-under-par 65 to Rose’s 70 left him just two adrift of his rival and a further two back of the leader, the defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick. On Saturday, both the chief protagonists shot 65, which put Rose atop the leaderboard on 201, a shot ahead of Dylan Frittelli and two clear of Fleetwood.
Since Rose had won both his previous two tournaments from eight shots back going into the final round, he was unlikely to be deterred from the prospect of winning when he had a lead. After 11 serene holes, he was 19 under par, four under for the day, and he led by one. And then, one by one, the wheels came off. He bogeyed 12 after pulling an 8-iron into a bunker. He bogeyed 14 after pushing his second shot into the water. He bogeyed 16 after driving into a bunker. After that lot, he needed an eagle at the last to win the Race to Dubai. His putt from 70 feet to do just that was four feet wide of the cup. Fleetwood, despite finishing his round bogey-bogey for a 74, was home and hosed – in champagne.
In truth, Sergio Garcia was a third man in this equation; the third player who had any sort of chance of winning the Race to Dubai. That would have required him to win the tournament and both Fleetwood and Rose to falter sufficiently. Those things didn’t quite happen, although the Spaniard did fire a final round of 65 to finish on 17 under par, eventually two shots adrift of the champion, and indeed he had a chance to win the tournament and the overall prize as well. Playing the last, a reachable par-five, he was tied for the lead. But his drive was in the trees, his second shot in the water, and he did well to make six. An hour or so later, he could reflect that since Rose had finished worse than solo fourth and Fleetwood was worse than 12th, he did in fact have a chance of glory as he stood on the 18th tee. A birdie would have matched what proved to be John Rahm’s winning total, and he might have won a playoff. Oh well…
But you knew this didn’t matter that much to Garcia; he had chosen not to add tournaments to his schedule in order to have a better chance of topping the table. “Winning the Race to Dubai would be great but I’m not going to change my whole life for it,” he had said on the Tuesday before the off. A reasonable attitude given that 2017 had already seen his whole life change, and for the better. First he’d won the Masters, beating Rose in a playoff, and then he’d got married. One can easily understand that missing out on heading the European Tour money list wouldn’t faze him.
So the winning Spaniard was Rahm. He closed with a steadily compiled 67 for a total of 19 under par, a shot ahead of Shane Lowry, who finished with a 63, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. “Having the weekend I’ve had, shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, a bogey-free round today, it’s really special,” said Rahm. He thus elevated himself to third in the final Race to Dubai, nudging his compatriot down fourth. I think we can take it as read that Sergio will be cool with that. Meanwhile, rock on Tommy.
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