In the end, it came right down to the wire but there was delight at Jumeirah Golf Estates for Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood who won the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai respectively after the most captivating conclusion the European Tour’s season-ending event has ever witnessed.
Rahm entered the final round one stroke behind Justin Rose but the Spaniard, making his DP World Tour Championship debut, showed the kind of form that led to him being awarded European Tour Rookie of the Year earlier in the week with a stunning display of ruthlessness and consistency to close with a bogey-free round of five under 67 to win by one from Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat at 19 under par 269.
“It’s a very special feeling,” said Rahm after winning his second Rolex Series event having claimed the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation in July. “What I’ve done this year, especially on the European Tour from being a non-member, to an affiliate member, to European Tour champion and now twice Rolex Series champion and winner of the DP World Tour Championship, it’s something unbelievable.
“When you accomplish something in life, it’s always a great feeling. When you do something that you had in mind, wasn’t really a goal at the end of the year and you accomplished something that you thought was years down the road, is just such an incredible feeling. It’s like when you have an errands list and you finish two hours before you expected to, it’s a very similar feeling. It’s very, very special.
“I’m extremely honoured and humbled to add my name to the winners of this event: Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson, Alvaro Quiros, Henrik Stenson, Rory (McIlroy), Matthew (Fitzpatrick) – they are all great players, some of them European Tour legends. It’s just great to just join them and get my chance to put my name on that great trophy. It’s a great feeling.”
Fans were treated to a double bill of blockbuster entertainment at Jumeirah Golf Estates. The battle to decide the victor of the prestigious US$8 million Rolex Series event on one hand, and the captivating tussle to find the winner of the season-long Race to Dubai title on the other.
Entering the tournament only three players were mathematically capable of achieving rankings glory: long-time leader Tommy Fleetwood, late season bloomer Justin Rose, and Masters Champion Sergio Garcia. Each of them entered the final round still in the hunt. Rose had a slender advantage, leading by one from Dylan Fritelli and Rahm, but Fleetwood lurked just one stroke further back with Garcia, another three behind. But it was the Spaniard, the most ‘under the radar’ of the trio and probably playing under less pressure, who grasped the nettle on Sunday, tearing up the Earth course’s front nine in just 30 strokes and staying bogey free right up until the famous final hole – so often the scene of drama at this tournament.
A first dropped shot of the day there saw Garcia sign for seven under 65 and a share of fourth place at 17 under par. Had he made birdie he would have been in a play-off with Rahm, which had he won, he would have been Race to Dubai champion. Having chosen not to play in the two events leading into this week’s tournament, Garcia revealed that he had no regrets. “Not at all,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, you do what you feel is best, not only for you, but for your family. Angela and I, we needed to do some things related to the baby, some checkups and stuff that I wanted to be a part of. I don’t regret it at all. It’s fine”.
Rose had looked unflappable all week and he went out in a similar fashion on the final day with four birdies on the front nine while Fleetwood was one under at the turn. But the English pair both struggled down the back nine. Fleetwood signed for a disappointing two over 74 which left him in a share of 21st place at 11 under for the tournament and far from certain of being crowned Race to Dubai champion.
Rose made bogeys on 12, 14 and 16 which left him needing two birdies over the final two holes. Par at the 17th meant only an eagle at the last would do it and he came close but his long putt missed and he tapped in for birdie, meaning Fleetwood, watching in the scorer’s hut with fiancé Clare and baby Frankie, was crowned European Number One.
“It’s the biggest day of my career for sure,” said Fleetwood who picked up wins at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the HNA Open de France this season. “The emotions were difficult on me because I don’t trust computers, so even when everything had finished, it was so difficult to get up or down. I felt for Justin a lot because I saw him when he came in. I think how gracious he was shows a lot about his character.
“It’s not sunk in yet, I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was actually quite an up-and-down week. The first day was poor and then the next two days were much better, but even the third day was up-and-down.
“And then today, obviously, I didn’t perform how I wanted to but it just shows golf can be such a cruel and difficult game sometimes.
“I’d just shot 14-under for two days and then couldn’t get anything going at all. Justin had played unbelievable for three and a half days and then that back nine; it was completely out of my hands after 12 or 13 holes.
“It’s a massive learning curve seeing that still anything can happen, but it’s still definitely not sunk in.”
After the most captivating finish to a season since the Race to Dubai began in 2009, the 2017 DP World Tour Championship will take some beating.