When Jordan Spieth won the US season opener, the Tournament of Champions in early January, by no less than eight shots he emphatically indicated that he doesn’t intend to slacken off in the wake of a season in which he won the first two majors of the years and came damn close in the third. Aged 22, the win in Hawaii meant he had matched one of Tiger Woods’ extraordinary list of records: winning seven times on the PGA Tour before reaching the age of 23. He doesn’t have a power game like Woods had but, like Tiger used to be, he is unquestionably the best putter in the world.
Spieth’s performance only added to the already high-level of hype when he did what Woods had so often done before, make an early-season appearance on the European Tour in the Middle East. (There was some mention of appearance money, I believe.) There, to nobody’s surprise, the world No. 1 was paired with his predecessor in that position, Rory McIlroy, for the first two rounds of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. Rickie Fowler was around to hold their coats…sorry, to complete the threesome. Rory duly opened with a six-under-par 66 while Spieth shot a 68 and got a warning for slow play, which seemed bit harsh since no one was being held up – but then again, we’re all in favour of faster play. Ricky, if anyone was counting, had a ho-hum 70.
Dodgy undesert-like weather (a persistent and recurring mist that wouldn’t have been out of place on a British links) meant the marquee threesome had to pack their tents when bad light stopped play after they had completed only 13 holes of the second round on Friday, and the weather meant the leaders could only complete nine holes of their third rounds come Saturday evening…and by the time they all teed off for the final round on Sunday, the field was headed by none other than Rickie Fowler, wearing his usual last-day colours of vivid orange in tribute to his alma mater university, Oklahoma State. In this sartorial aspect he was joined by his playing partner, Joost Luiten, but he’s Dutch so that’s understandable.
And ultimately it was the American orange man who would feel like painting the town red. A double-bogey five at the par-three 7th threatened to derail him but a holed bunker shot for an eagle three at the par-five 8th soon got Fowler back on track. After eight successive pars a chip-in for a birdie at the 17th – hey, who needs a putter? – put him on the verge of sealing the deal, which he duly did with a solid par on the 18th for a closing round of 69, thereby winning by a stroke from Thomas Pieters. Rory finished tied third, two shots back; Jordan tied fifth, five adrift. After slumbering around for a fortnight in South Africa, the European season – like Rickie – felt like it was properly up and running.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen