Rory McIlroy was in control for much of the DP World Tour’s Dubai Invitational this week. However, a strong third round from Tommy Fleetwood vaulted him into the lead entering Sunday.
In a drama-filled final round, it ultimately came down to the 72nd hole.
McIlroy had erased a three shot deficit during the final round and held a one-stroke lead on the 18th tee box.
Yet, his tee shot found water.
He would ultimately bogey the hole and drop to 18-under for the tournament. That tied him with Thirston Lawrence, who was already in the clubhouse.
It was up to Fleetwood. A birdie wins the tournament. If he stays level on the 18th, it would force a three-way playoff and a bogey ended his day.
Fleetwood found the fairway off the tee and his approach left him just over 10-feet for the win. Despite facing a tough left-to-right putt, the Englishman was clutch.
“That winning feeling is amazing, and it’s been a cool week,” Fleetwood said. “Felt like I played better and better throughout the week. Had a great day yesterday, and then today, playing with Rory, coming down the stretch in contention and trying to win a golf tournament was cool. It’s been nice being back in Dubai for the start of the year.”
They are also close friends. Fleetwood knows when he is paired up with McIlroy, he will be able to gauge where his game is.
“Rory’s been a very, very supportive influence on me over the past,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve watched him do amazing things down the stretch in golf tournaments, and today was my turn.”
After watching McIlroy win for years, Fleetwood finally earned head-to-head stripes.
“Rory played amazing on the back nine. He played so aggressive,” Fleetwood said. “He made so many birdies. It was frustrating to then all of a sudden be one behind when you’ve led all day, but happy with how I sort of trusted myself.”
Fleetwood’s attitude during the final round was a big reason he didn’t let McIlroy’s surge bother him too much.
“I think the closer you get to the finishing line, it’s easy to predict things and easy to tell yourself what you might do, what others might do,” Fleetwood said. “ I’ve had plenty of times where somebody has finished well against me when I’ve not quite done enough, and today was my turn to walk through the door.”
This victory should give Fleetwood a ton of confidence moving forward this season. He has yet to win on the PGA Tour but has been knocking at the door.
Fleetwood had a shot last when he lost to Nick Taylor in a playoff at the RBC Canadian Open. He also recorded nine top-10 finishes and 13 top-25s in 2023.
Could this win give Fleetwood what he needs to get over the hump in the States? His first PGA Tour start will likely be in Arizona for the WM Phoenix Open. He will stay in Dubai for next week’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
Savannah Leigh Richardson is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more golf coverage, be sure to follow us @_PlayingThrough on all major social platforms. You can also follow her on Twitter @SportsGirlSL and Instagram @savannah_leigh_sports.