A couple of years ago, Tommy Fleetwood was playing in Abu Dhabi when Rory McIlroy eagled the 18th hole and then gave Fleetwood a chocolate cake for his birthday as the Englishman was conducting his post-round interviews.
On Sunday, Fleetwood was not satisfied with just one eagle, he collected an unprecedented three of them as he claimed victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, triumphing in a playoff against young Swede Marcus Kinhult.
Presumably three eagles means one has to buy an entire chocolate factory … and Fleetwood might just be able to afford one after winning $2.5 million dollars, the biggest prize in European Tour history.
Starting the final round six shots off the pace, Fleetwood needed something special to end his 22-month winning drought and although he picked up three birdies in the first six holes, it was his back-to-back eagles on the ninth and 10th holes that catapulted him into contention.
On the ninth, he was behind the green on the fringe, but he chipped in from 20 feet away, down the hill. On the next hole he caressed in an eagle putt from 12-feet.
His third eagle – the first time that has been achieved in a single round at the Nedbank Golf Challenge – came on the 14th after a superb approach shot to eight feet and he was not behind again in the final round.
“Those eagles at nine and 10 really pushed me up the leaderboard, but it was still hard because I’ve misjudged the finish line before, so I was just concentrating on playing each shot because it’s so difficult to judge what the other golfers are going to do on Sunday. My past experience here helped and it feels great to win, it was emotional because the win has been a long time coming, it’s what you work for week in, week out.
“I had back-to-back eagles in Canada a year ago but I guess today was just one of those crazy days again. We mentioned last night that we needed to try and shoot low but I had two great up-and-downs on the first and third holes. Nobody will talk about those, but those shots were so important in getting the round going. Without those, my day would have been very different and I can guarantee you I would not have shot 65,” Fleetwood said after claiming his fifth European Tour victory. It is a measure of how consistently he has been in contention though that he was ranked 18th in the world coming into the tournament.
In the playoff, both he and Kinhult hit their approaches over the green. The only problem for the 23-year-old Swede was that he had already laid up after his drive went too far left and gave him no shot over the water into the 18th green.
Although Kinhult sunk an impressive eight-foot putt for bogey, Fleetwood, having taken a free drop from the grandstand, produced a lovely delicate chip, landing it in the perfect place past the greenside bunker, leaving him with a six-foot putt for par and victory, which he slotted.
“It was definitely not easy out there today and Marcus did unbelievably well because those last three holes are not easy, but he got his pars. It was just one of those special days for me I guess, you start holing a few putts and the birdies start coming. It feels great to win, it was emotional because the win has been a long time coming, and I really worked hard for this win.
“it’s what you work for week in, week out and you wait for it to be your turn, probably a bit impatiently at times. So it is such a good feeling to achieve it and this is one of the best rounds of may career for sure – the way I hit the ball, the way I putted, the way I handled the emotion, stayed in the moment and then winning the playoff,” Fleetwood said after his exceptional 65 in the final round.
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