Tommy Fleetwood wins in France, does nothing to hurt his status as a British Open favorite
It is becoming more difficult to keep up with Tommy Fleetwood, whose 2017 season continues to go from strength-to-strength. The winner in Abu Dhabi back in January (where he pipped World No. 1 Dustin Johnson by a shot), the 26-year-old Englishman has now added a second title with his victory in the HNA Open de France at Le Golf National.
In between those two wins, Fleetwood hasn’t been performing too badly, either. So far this year, the former top-ranked amateur was second in the WGC-Mexico Championship, second at the Shenzhen International in China, fourth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills (where he played alongside eventual champion Brooks Koepka in the final round) and, only one week before this latest triumph, T-6 at the BMW International Open in Germany. He is a player on the rise and a far cry from the struggling young man who arrived at the 2012 South African Open needing a top-10 finish just to keep his European Tour card (he was T-6).
Fleetwood’s 12-under-par 272 in the $7 million event, the second of eight in the European Tour’s new Rolex Series, was also in complete contrast to his previous visits to the course outside of Paris that will host next year’s Ryder Cup matches. Not once had the Southport native broken par; not once had he even made the halfway cut.
This time was different though. Fleetwood’s bogey-free closing 66 left him two shots clear of American Peter Uihlein and was typical of the form he displayed all week, earning him €1,040,824 and pushing him to the top of the Race to Dubai rankings. In the 72 holes, he dropped only four shots to par.
“When the Rolex Series was talked about last year, they were the tournaments we wanted to be in and win,” Fleetwoods said. “To claim this one is a big deal. Today was good from start to finish. I nearly holed my first two iron shots. And I didn’t miss a shot down the stretch. On those last four holes there is a series of shots you just want to get behind you and I hit them all great. I felt very comfortable. It was great to successfully test all the things I work on every day.”
Uihlein—who joined Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Alexander Bjork of Sweden in claiming one of the three exempt spots available in this month’s Open Championship—deserves much credit, too. When Fleetwood made his fifth and final birdie of the day at the par-5 14th he was four shots clear of the former U.S. Amateur champion. The eventual winner then played the pond-infested finishing stretch in level par, yet only won by a single shot. Uihlein, in fact, played the last 13 holes in five under after a slow start that saw him drop consecutive shots at the fourth and fifth holes.
But it was Fleetwood’s week, one will help him rise into the world’s top 15.
“Today is one that I'll never forget,” he continued. “Winning is the best feeling by far in golf, and to do it on this golf course in this event is just massive. With the start I had this year, it’s very easy to look at the Race to Dubai and want to look towards the end of the year. But topping the money-list is going to be tough. I was a long way ahead and then Sergio [Garcia] won the Masters. You can't control what other people do. With how strong the tour is, there's no reason why people can't win majors. It might be me, it might be someone else.”
Right now though, especially as the Open Championship visits Royal Birkdale and his home town in less than three weeks, it looks a lot like it might be Tommy Fleetwood.