Formidable Fleetwood the toast of Paris

Tommy Fleetwood will head into this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in the form of his life after claiming a second victory of the season in the HNA Open de France.

Fleetwood carded a flawless final round of 66 at 2018 Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National to finish 12 under par, a shot ahead of overnight joint-leader Peter Uihlein.

The 26-year-old from Southport, who used to sneak on to this year’s Open Championship venue of Royal Birkdale as a kid, was a lowly 188th in the world last September, but will be a career-high 15th when the rankings are updated today.

Olympic champion Justin Rose is now the only English player ranked higher than Fleetwood, who also moved above Masters champion Sergio Garcia to the top of the Race to Dubai.

Fleetwood has reaped the rewards of returning to his former coach Alan Thompson and followed his second European Tour victory in Abu Dhabi in January by finishing fourth in the US Open last month.

“When it all got talked about last year, everybody knew these were the tournaments you wanted to play well in,” Fleetwood said after collecting the trophy and career-best first prize of €1m, eclipsing the €980,000 he won by finishing second to world number one Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship in March.

“To win a Rolex Series event, knowing how big the stature is of everything now is a big deal for me. I played great today, felt comfy again, and it’s always great to test your game and test what you work on every day under the ultimate pressure.

“Life’s just been great. I’m engaged, expecting a baby, my fiance is my manager, my caddie’s one of my best mates in the world.

“Thommo, I think, is the best coach in the world — everybody around me I have really strong relationships with and when you enjoy doing your job, that’s a massive positive.”

Fleetwood began the final round a shot off the lead but quickly wiped out his deficit after coming within a fraction of an inch of spinning his tee shot on the second back into the hole for an ace.

A two-putt birdie on the par-five third took Fleetwood into the lead and another on the ninth restored his advantage after Sweden’s Alexander Bjork recovered from a bogey on the first with birdies on the fifth and seventh.

Fleetwood moved further ahead with birdies on the 13th and 14th, and although Uihlein picked up shots on the same holes and piled on the pressure with a birdie on the 17th, the American could not hole a bunker shot on the 18th to force a play-off.

“I can’t believe how close he got,” said Fleetwood. “On 14 I tapped in and I was four clear and finishing with four pars round here I didn’t think I’d be scratching the win by a shot.”

Fleetwood described ending the year as European number one by winning the Race to Dubai as “an ultimate dream”, and as well as his trips to the Irish Open in Portsteward this week, he competes in the Scottish Open and then a “massive week” in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

“It’s going to be a massive week for me,” he added. “I’m going to be playing in front of crowds that I never have before and people that you have grown up with.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience from start to finish. Whether I do well or do bad I’m going to have a lot of people rooting for me and that’s going to be lovely.”

Uihlein had the consolation of sealing his place at Royal Birkdale via the Open qualifying series, with Bjork and Mike Lorenzo-Vera claiming the other two berths available in a share of third place with Thorbjorn Olesen, who was already exempt.



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