Honda Classic
February 29, 2020

Five-time European Tour winner Tommy Fleetwood closing in on his biggest victory yet

The Honda Classic - Round Three

The Honda Classic - Round Three

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 29: Tommy Fleetwood of England lines up a putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course on February 29, 2020 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Photo by: Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Winning matters, and in that department Tommy Fleetwood has acquitted himself quite well in recent years. The 29-year-old Englishman has five career victories on the European Tour, highlighted by a 2017 triumph in Abu Dhabi, where he held off a trio of major champions (Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer) with a final-round 67 to win by one and eventually take the Race to Dubai title.

Where matters, too.

No disrespect to Fleetwood’s previous titles, but all came on what is ultimately a lesser tour (sorry, Europe). Fleetwood is ranked 12th in the world, and he is in the conversation for best ball-striker on the planet, but he’s also the only player in the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking without a victory on the PGA Tour.

Part of this of course can be attributed to the fact that Fleetwood has only played the PGA Tour since 2018. Excluding majors and WGCs, this week’s Honda Classic is just his 22nd start on tour in that span. Include the majors and WGCs and that number balloons to nearly double at 39—still a small-ish sample size.

Fleetwood also has had his chances, with two top-five finishes in the U.S. Open, including a runner-up in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, where he had an eight-foot putt for 62 but missed to finish one behind winner Brooks Koepka, and a runner-up at last year’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

Sunday at PGA National, he’ll have another.

Fleetwood leads Brendan Steele by one and countrymen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood by two after a three-under 67 in the third round.

Like his play in the last few years, Saturday’s performance was impressive, too. Of the final eight twosomes, Fleetwood was the only player to break par, and only one golfer in the field (Mackenzie Hughes) recorded a better score (66).

Through three rounds, Fleetwood is second in the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green, and in the third round he rode a hot putter and timely ball-striking to six birdies. That his best shot of the day was a bogey save on the par-3 15th, where he had a fried-egg lie in the bunker and left his second in the sand, was emblematic of the difficulty of the conditions, however.

It’s harder to win on this tour, too.

“I think the fields are deeper here,” Donald said.

He should know. In 2011, Donald became the first player to top the PGA Tour money list and win the Race to Dubai in the same year.

“Someone ranked 200 could win any time out here,” Donald said. “Because the setups are usually a little bit more challenging week in and week out, it hardens the players and makes them a little bit stronger.

“Overall that’s always good for the players. It’s obviously good to travel, too, and I think that’s always helped me. I love to play both tours. But playing slightly tougher setups usually makes you a better player, and I think world rankings will show that notoriously the fields are stronger here on the PGA Tour, and it’s harder to win.”

Excluding his WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2011, which counts for both tours, Donald has four PGA Tour wins and six on the European Tour.

Then there’s Westwood. The 46-year-old, who has enjoyed a marvelous resurgence with a victory last month in Abu Dhabi and a climb to 30th in the OWGR, has 44 worldwide victories. Only two of those, however, have come on the PGA Tour, the last at the 2010 St. Jude Classic.

Is there a difference?

“It shouldn’t be,” Westwood said. "It’s still 18 holes on grass and a 72-hole tournament. The strength of the fields are strong all over the world now.”

To Westwood’s point, Fleetwood has secured victories in Abu Dhabi, South Africa, France and Scotland.

Is winning on the PGA Tour bigger?

“I don’t think so necessarily,” Fleetwood said before expanding. “For sure as a whole, the [PGA Tour] and the way most of these events are run—I don’t want to use the word bigger—but you look at a lot of the best players in the world [and they] play out here, and when you grow up in Europe and you come over to America, it's a different style of golf, it's different faces, different people, different atmosphere when you're playing, so it's just another level of what you're used to.

“There’s amazing golfers everywhere in the world, and I think there’s some amazing tournaments in Europe that I’ve won and that I’ve not won yet. But for sure if you look at both, I would love to be a winner, I would love to be one of those guys that wins regularly on both tours and be a world golfer, which consistently I am, but just having those wins is something that I’ve not quite got yet on both.”